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Sîan Melvill Hawthorne School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London Submitted for the degree of PhD


This thesis develops and advocates a feminist philosophy of myth in order to reformulate influential understandings of the roles and functions of myths in recent mythological scholarship. The initial hypothesis which the thesis establishes in Chapter 1 is that the designation of myth qua myth is neither innocent nor organic; highly consequential interests are at stake when myths are narrated, and, moreover, the categorisation of some types of narrative as ‘myth’ and others as ‘science’, or ‘philosophy’, for example, indicates powerful assertions about their relative level of validity and authority. I argue that these assertions are implicated in discursive strategies of containment and exclusion and allied to forms of identity construction characterised by an assertion of singularity. They further rely on the location of a non- transcendable point of origin as a means of securing the stability and legitimacy of these constructions. I develop this argument, in Chapters 2–7, through an extended case study of the German search for origins from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, and demonstrate its relationship to the German romantic attempt to construct a noble German identity. I critique these forms of identity and origin construction, arguing that the German case is but one example of the western metaphysical theories of ontology which are indebted to inflected patrilinearity, the main feature of which is a preoccupation with monogenetic singularity. I consequently develop an alternative feminist model of origins and identity in Chapters 8–10 based on poststructural and psychoanalytical feminist theories of maternality as a site of splitting, doubling, and process. I acknowledge that while the identification of origins is an ontological convention, the assertion of patrilineal provenance creates forms of subjectivity that are exclusionary, dialectical, and monolithic, and are, therefore, inadequate frameworks for constructing ethically oriented models of identity in a post-feminist context. In contrast, I suggest that metaphors of maternal origin offer a considerably more promising, if transitional, discursive frame for articulating identities that stress multiplicity, connectedness, immanence, and dialogue.











Coventions and Orthography



List of Abbreviations


Notes on Style









I. Overview


II. Myth and Mythology: A Review of Literature


III. Structure of the Thesis




Myth, History, and Identity: Enlightenment and Romantic Paradigms


I. Ideals of Identity in the Age of Reason




Enlightenment Subjects: Reason and Being



Religion, Reason, and Secularism



History and Myth: Enlightenment Models of the Past



Orienting Knowledges: Spatial Politics, Temporal Contexts



II. Romancing the Origin in the Politics of Nostalgia




The Rural Idyll



The Rediscovery of Vernacular Traditions: Redeeming the Present



The Quest for German Identity: Tacitus, the German Humanists, and Herder


I. Origin and Legitimacy: The Search for German Identity


II. The Ancient Origins of German Identity: Tacitus and the Germania


III. Herder’s Organicism and the Importance of the Volk




Climate, Language, and Nationalbildung: The Volk in History



Herder on Myth and the Volk


3. ’Languages of Paradise’: Semites, Aryans, and the European Search for Origins




William Jones and the ‘Discovery’ of Sanskrit


II. The Sons of Noah and Biblical Ethnology


III. Language and Homeland: The Indo-European Hypothesis


4. Theories of Nationalism and the Background to German Romantic Nationalism



I. Models of Nationalism





Primordialism, Instrumentalism, and Constructivism



The Triadic Structure of Nationalist Rhetoric




and Gender



II. German Cultural Nationalism


III. Romanticism and Nationalism: The Politics of Aesthetics


IV. Synthesis: Philosophy and the ‘New Mythology’



Nostalgia, Authenticity, and Romantic Nationalism: The (Re)Invention of German






Nostalgia and the Collection of Folklore




Folklore as a Cult of Authenticity


III. Folklore and Nationalism: The Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen


IV. Authenticity, Invention, and Orality


V. Gender, Class, and Nation: The Kinder- und Hausmärchen as an Erziehungsbuch .179

6. German Identity: Myth, Masculinity, and Landscape


I. Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie and the German Vorzeit


II. Monuments, Masculinity, and the German Character


7. Myth as a Discourse of Differentiation: German Nationalism and the Myth of Aryan



I. Romantic Linguistics and the Idealisation of India


II. The German Urheimat and the Myth of Aryan Origins


III. German Aryanism and Antisemitism as a Discourse of Differentiation


IV. Myth, Patrilineal Origins, and the Politics of Identity


8. Narrativity, Singularity, and Patrilinearity in the Politics of Identity


I. Narrativity and Identity


II. ‘Oneself as Another’: Ricœur and Narrative Identity


III. Self/Other and Patrilinearity


9. Divided Selves: Patrilinearity and Psychoanalysis


I. Stories of the Self: The Divided Self in Lacanian Psychoanalysis


II. Registers of the Self: The Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic Orders


III. The ‘Name-of-the-Father’: Gendered Divisions of the Self


10. Against Singular Origins: Towards A Feminist Philosophy of Myth


I. Maternality and Origins: Julia Kristeva and the Maternal Body


(i) Julia Kristeva on the Subject-in-Process/on-Trial


(ii) The Semiotic Chora and the Question of Origins



Maternality and Abjection



‘There stood the Mother’: ‘Stabat Mater’, the Split Subject, and Heretical



II. Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Myth




Appendix: Translations and Transcriptions


Chapter Three


Chapter Six


Chapter Seven



Chapter Nine




I acknowledge with thanks the Arts and Humanities Research Board (now Council) which funded my research through its research studentship programme.

I owe a great deal to Dr. Tina Beattie (University of Roehampton, Surrey) and Dr. Kate Crosby (SOAS) who have, at different points in the writing of this thesis, supervised me. In each case it has been a very positive and inspiring experience. Their feedback, careful reading of my work, and warm encouragement has been indispensable. I am particularly grateful to Kate for being such a vigilant protector, for her wise advice, and for helping me to keep a sense of humour about it all.

This thesis is dedicated with much love and appreciation to the memory of Julia Leslie (23 rd January 1948–24 th September 2004).





List of Abbreviations


Before the Common Era




Common Era


Deutsche Mythologie (Jakob Grimm)




Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm)


no date




no publisher


Oxford English Dictionary


Oresteia: Eumenides (Aeschylus)


De Vita Caesarum (Caius Suetonius Tranquillus)

Tac. Ann.

Annales (Tacitus)

Tac. Ger.

Germania (Tacitus)


Theogony (Hesiod)

Vell. Pat.

Res Gestae Divi Augusti (Velleius Paterculus)

Notes on Style

1. Unless indicated otherwise, any emphasis marked in quotations is found in the original. Emphases are indicated in italics.

2. Translations and transcriptions from any non-English sources cited are provided in Appendix I.

3. References from classical sources, i.e., Greek and Latin, are listed in the Bibliography under the author but are cited throughout the thesis according to the standard form of citation for Greek and Latin sources, i.e. Title Chapter/Book.verse.

4. The Bibliography includes works cited and all works (uncited) that have been consulted in the process of writing this thesis.



This is a story. June 26 th 1970, Nambour General Hospital, Queensland, Australia. My origin, from the start a divided one. An Australian mother, her parentage divided across class lines. An Irish father, himself a compromise (short-lived) between a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. My parents had met in India as Christian missionaries and it was there that we returned when I was six months old, to a small Muslim village in Kashmir, the product of Partition, where some of the first words I spoke were in Urdu. At the age of six I went to an English boarding school in the south of India. It was an utterly foreign place and I lost my mother tongue, learning to speak in the clipped precision of a fading colonial elite and, bewilderingly, to disdain and to separate myself from the only people to whom I had ever felt I belonged. My mother tongue returns to me sometimes in dreams, always in fragments, fleeting. It is the only time I feel completely at home. ‘Yes, I only have one language, yet it is not mine’—a refrain that repeatedly echoes throughout Jacques Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other (1998), and one that drew me into his work, haunts me, returns me to a memory of myself, and relieves me because it names an experience I still struggle to find the words for. It represents a moment of recognition for me, a way in which to put simply but profoundly the complexity of a childhood spent searching for a place I did not, could not, belong to. ‘You see, never will this language be mine. And truth to tell, it never was’ (Derrida 1998:2). Australian? Irish? Indian? British? Neither one nor the other. And this is the crux of what I explore in this thesis. What is it to belong and not to belong? What is it to be an undivided or divided self? How are place and self connected? Do origins secure, unequivocally, the stability and coherency of the self? Or is this always already impossible? Some of these questions have been asked before. They will, of course, be asked again. I do not offer any answers but I do suggest an opening to a way of asking these questions differently. Identity, as this era’s compulsion, must speak compulsively of a problem of difference. And it is this ‘problem’—of difference as a ground of and challenge to singular and whole identity—that I seek to explore in what follows. The process of writing this thesis has not been systematic, starting with a clear concept of what I intended to say, to prove, to argue, and then proceeding neatly to map out, unchanged, my initial set of propositions carried through to a convincing


conclusion. Is it a dangerous admission to say that it came to me in bits and pieces that I have struggled to make sense of? That in some ways it remains a collection of fragmented stories, beliefs, desires and that it cannot be otherwise? That it was not until I had almost finished that I realised what had been at stake all along and so I returned to the beginning—my beginning—again and again? What has been at stake, I discover belatedly, has been my own search for identity and origins, conducted under the cover of a study of another search for identity and origins. There is no immediately obvious reason, of course, why my own convoluted mental processes should be of any interest or informative value in the academic context of writing a thesis. However, because this is a thesis about origins and identities, and about the criss-crossing of race, gender, class, nationality, religion, and sexuality that constitute in complex ways the stories that can and may be told of identity, I begin with a small fragment of my own story as a way of placing myself—my own ‘origins’ and my ‘identity’—very deliberately within this text as part of its formative context and content. I have not mastered this text; I do not stand apart from or outside it. Were I not to acknowledge this from the outset, I would leave my account of the ‘self’ to remain uninterrogated while placing others’ accounts of their selves under question…



I. Overview

This thesis develops and advocates a feminist philosophy of myth in order to challenge and reformulate some influential understandings of the roles and functions of myths in recent mythological scholarship. I will establish what I perceive to be a relationship of interdependency between what has become popularly known as the ‘politics of identity’, the legitimating functions of myth, and the legitimating practices of mythmaking within the particular rhetoric of identity that has preoccupied western metaphysics since the ‘Age of Enlightenment’. As such I will claim that myth and mythmaking are, after Michel Foucault, discursive practices insofar as they create and encode a circumscribed articulation of identity idealisations and aspirations. The initial hypothesis from which I proceed is the idea, suggested by Bruce Lincoln (1999), that the designation of myth qua myth is not innocent; highly consequential interests are at stake when myths are narrated, and, moreover, the categorisation of some types of narrative as ‘myth’ against other narrative forms such as ‘history’, or, more significantly ‘philosophy’, for example, indicates forceful assertions about their ‘relative level of validity and authority’ (Lincoln 1999:ix). I will argue that these assertions are implicated in discursive strategies of containment and exclusion that are demonstrably allied to forms of identity construction and maintenance that are characterised by an assertion of the ‘self’ as singular, autonomous, and stable. Further, I will suggest that they rely on the location of a non-transcendable point of origin that is intimately connected to a patrilineal logic of continuity and causality as a means of securing the stability and legitimacy of these constructions. I test my core hypothesis via an extended case study, which occupies the bulk of my discussion in the thesis. It is a study of what I consider to be a ‘myth of origins’, namely the search for the origins of the German people during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. This search, which was also a search for a stable concept of German identity, was achieved through two types of mythmaking: firstly, vernacular myth and folklore traditions were ‘retrieved’ and then wielded as repositories of the German character, in the process creating a canonical basis for German identity that concealed the fragmented and manufactured nature of the sources used. Nonetheless,


these sources were thought to convey the complete and authentic basis of the German nation as rooted in shared cultural traditions—continuity—giving the nationalist project of the nineteenth century a solid basis for national unification. It further served to enable scholars and public figures to reify the origin of the German people as autochthonous, pure, and noble. The second form of mythmaking took the form of the narration of German identity itself, that is, the production of a coherent and linear narrative of nationhood that sought to ground itself in a glorious past and to express the hope of a future utopian destiny. I will show that these two forms of mythmaking operated as ‘discourses of differentiation’ (Lincoln 1999:54) that served the interests of the German romantic nationalist project of the nineteenth century in establishing a vision of a unified nation-state against a backdrop of unprecedented social and political fragmentation. As such, I will argue that a concept of authentic Germanness was developed along an axis of oppositional and exclusionary differences—between Germany and other European nations, the past and the present, Semites and Aryans, and, paradigmatically, between men as the fathers of the nation and women as passive symbols of the national territory. However, paradoxically, these discourses of differentiation were used to claim and to distil the monogenetic singularity, and thus the prestige and autonomy, of the German people. I will suggest, therefore, that the construction of German identity in this period was thought to be contingent on the identification of a singular point of origin, and it was an origin conceived of in patrilineal terms, insofar as the search for origins and the theories of German identity that emerged from it encoded and relied upon a patrilineal model of descent. The reason why I focus on the German search for origins, rather than any other, is that it occurred in a context where German identity was anything but certain and secure, unlike many other European nations during the period under consideration. While myth was turned to as a source of secure identity and as an origin of innate character, it was only necessary because of that identity’s very uncertainty. As such, the history of the politics of German identity in the period in question provides an informative case study of how what is in fact an unstable identity can be covered over by means of the narration of stability. My aim in focusing on this case study is thus to derive a broader set of principles that can be used to understand ‘myths of origin’ more generally as discursive practices (rather than descriptive narratives) that are rooted in the appropriation of procreative metaphors that encode a patriline as they seek to manufacture and valorise identity as stable, primary, and singular.


I will critique these forms of identity and origin construction, suggesting that, like the German search for origins and identity, they too are indebted to models of inflected patrilinearity, the main feature of which is a preoccupation with monogenetic singularity. While I acknowledge that the identification of origins does perhaps constitute, at the very least, an ontological convention, if not a necessity, the assertion of patrilineal provenance creates forms of subjectivity that are exclusionary, dialectical, and monolithic. I will suggest that these are inadequate and damaging frameworks for discerning and constructing the possible forms and functions of identity in a post- feminist context where difference, rather than sameness, has been shown by many feminist theorists to be both the basis of oppression as well as the source of creative resistance. In contrast to metaphors of patrilineal inheritance as the basis of ontology, I will suggest that metaphors and myths of maternal origin and of the maternal body offer a more promising—if transitional—discursive frame for developing and articulating identities that stress multiplicity, connectedness, immanence, and dialogue and which do not seek either to overcome or to marginalise difference but rather to embrace it. I will consequently develop an alternative feminist model of origins and identity—a philosophy—based on poststructural and psychoanalytical feminist theories of maternality and the maternal body as a site of splitting, doubling, deconstruction, and process that is at serious odds with a patrilineal model. I focus in particular on the accounts offered by poststructural and psychoanalytic theories because, in my view, they offer a discourse on identity that explicitly resists reading identity in dualist terms. Poststructural theory in particular offers a novel approach to identity which could be termed an alternative ‘logic’ that eschews an ‘either/or’ model in favour of a thinking practice of ‘both/and’. As such, as I will argue, it suggests an opening out of ontology that engages with and transgresses the limits placed conventionally within western metaphysics on knowledge, gender, subjectivity, and power in a non-authoritarian and process-oriented way. The model of identity that I subsequently derive will be shown to have some important implications for how myth might be viewed, no longer in opposition to philosophy—as philosophy’s other—but rather as philosophy’s future horizon.

My work in this thesis is particularly in dialogue with feminist theory, and I derive many of my working assumptions and theoretical frameworks from the body of scholarship that has emerged out of the women’s movement of the twentieth century. Because of the contested and heterogeneous nature of the term ‘feminist’ some comment


is required regarding what I understand it to mean within the context of my work. As with most terms, defining ‘feminism’, and by implication, identifying myself as a feminist, presents an immediate difficulty because it suggests a homogeneity that is belied both by the history of its development and the diversity of its articulations and forms. The multiplicity of feminisms that together constitute ‘Feminism’—whether early suffrage campaigns, discursive analyses of gender hierarchies, or lesbian activism, for example—indicates subtle differences of emphasis and context. Most feminisms are concerned, nonetheless, with promoting political and theoretical programmes that address what Sherry Ortner has described as the almost ‘universal’ secondary status of women (1974:67–71). In this thesis I will deploy the term ‘feminism’ and its derivative nouns and adjectives, to refer to a broad set of common themes and concepts, however differently expressed, which articulate a critical analysis of gender relations at both metatheoretical and empirical levels. In spite of the differences between feminists, therefore, in my view they do share several foundational premises: that gender is a fundamental organising category of experience and identity; that sexual inequality is a cultural construct; and, that an androcentric perspective that obscures its partisan nature has dominated fields of knowledge, shaping their theoretical paradigms and methods. Feminist theory, as the intellectual conduit of a diversity of feminisms, responds to these premises with an array of alternative proposals, all of which reflect an accumulated fund of knowledge and experience that is situated in an ongoing teleological and etiological analysis of gender inequalities and identities in all social and cultural arenas. Further, the possibility of conceptual and political transformation is the raison d’être of feminist practices, theories, and methodologies (Hawthorne 2005:3023). Although not usually viewed as a feminist, Edward Said has described the task of ‘cultural intellectuals’ in terms that represent well what I believe the enterprise of feminist scholarship to be: ‘not to accept the politics of identity as given, but to show how all representations are constructed, for what purpose, by whom, and with what components’ (1994:380). As such, a feminist analysis of identity formation of the type I seek to undertake here necessarily enacts a deconstructive double gesture of critique and transformation: it seeks to assess and dismantle conventional structures of thought that inscribe identity within an oppositional and dualistic framework, where, amongst other forms of identification, masculinity is simultaneously normativised and valorised


at the expense of femininity, and then uses the intellectual space subsequently created to suggest creative and radical alternatives. 1 This is one of the reasons why my thesis gives such a central place to discourse as the ground of social relations, political struggle and the construction of identity. Symbolic representations—from origin myths to the paradigms of a scholarly discipline—are realised in discourse, which itself constitutes and creates the conditions for social action. That is, discourse helps shape visions of the world and structures roles and relationships in ways that need not, and frequently do not, register on a conscious level. In part because of the capacity of discourse to create experience, contemporary continental (poststructural) feminist theorists (whose work informs much of my thinking about gender and identity), have targeted discourse as a primary agent for the oppression of women (Marks and de Courtivron 1980:3). It is through discourse that challenges and disrupts established symbolic structures, they argue, that women may redirect their experience. Thus, I believe that if existing gender-based power relations are to be altered, the concept of gender must be viewed as socially and historically contingent, and politically charged. 2 My task in this thesis, therefore, is one that I consider to be both descriptive and prescriptive. It is descriptive to the extent that I present an account of the construction and narration of identity as developed in the German search for origins and demonstrate that it was predicated on a set dualistic assumptions that enshrined fatherhood as the basis of national identity, necessitating the identification of and potentially violent exclusion of a manufactured alterity in the figure of the Jews and, in a more hidden way, of women. In so suggesting I do not mean to argue, as I have already stated, that this process was a specifically German one; rather I believe that it stands as emblematic of one of the processes and forms of identification that operate within western metaphysics more generally and which underpin a masculinist economy of the self-same. My thesis is also prescriptive in that I seek to offer a potentially transformative model of identity predicated on a different ‘myth of origin’, that of the maternal function and the metaphor of maternal corporeality as defined within the field of psychoanalysis, and particularly as developed in the work of Julia Kristeva. I consequently develop an alternative and explicitly feminist model—a myth-as-discourse—of origins and identity

1 See Greene and Kahn 1985:1–2 and Kolodny 1980:7.

2 See Jardine 1985:47.


based on poststructural and psychoanalytical feminist theories of maternality as a site of splitting, doubling, deconstruction, and process that embraces—rather than requires— the destruction of alterity. As such, my intention is to propose just one way—not the only way—in which sexual organisation, and by implication other systems of identification that are predicated on an oppositional model of being, might be reimagined in such a way that difference does not inevitably result in disadvantage for those who are marginalised by these systems (Bem 1993). In the title of this thesis I indicate that my work is a move ‘towards a feminist philosophy of myth’. In so stating, I am implying that my project is concerned with the ethics of narration within a feminist frame. My guide is Julia Kristeva’s concern to develop representations of difference that allow individuals to express their individuality without being marginalised or excluded on the basis of that difference in society. Much of her work has explored those processes through which (subject/object) boundaries are both broached and maintained dialogically and relationally. As such, I will argue that her theories present a fruitful means not only of broadening out the ways in which the self might be conceived (in both senses of the term), but that they also offer an insight into resolving and overturning the conventional division between myth and philosophy, placing them in dialogue rather than in opposition. I will suggest the ways in which this constitutes a feminist project. While each chapter contains some original analysis or presentation of data, I consider the main academic contribution of this thesis to be as follows. Firstly, I align myself, although not uncritically, with a discursive approach to myth, outlined below, which views myth as an ideological tool for the construction of identities. However, I seek to demonstrate, more systematically than has hitherto been done, the discursive aspects of both myth and mythmaking. Secondly, I challenge the gendered lacunae of much of the scholarship in the field through an analysis of ‘myths of origin’ showing how the narration of origins is always, of necessity, a gendered affair and demonstrate the significance of this gendering. Thirdly, I challenge the ‘self-understanding’ of the field of mythology as originating with the Platonic distinction between logos and muthos, suggesting instead that if an origin for the field must be identified then it is the recuperation of myth in the seventeenth century onwards to which scholars of myth should turn. Fourthly, I develop a theory of patrilinearity as a dominant trope in western metaphysics that has been fundamental in asserting identity as singular and autonomous and suggest the ways in which myths of origin have assisted this process.


Fifthly, I argue that a theory of patrilinearity is a more contextually viable means of understanding the secondary status of femininity and women within the history of western culture than the concept of universal patriarchy that has been wielded by many feminists. I am thus not suggesting that patrilinearity is a universal model of identity, unaffected by change over time or by its place in diverse societies but am rather arguing that it has been a particular feature of the metaphysics that arise out of the Enlightenment within the western tradition of philosophy, regardless of what may be identified as its previous instantiations. Finally, I offer a reading of Kristeva’s theories of maternality and extend it to consider how myths of origin might be considered differently.

II. Myth and Mythology: A Review of Literature

This thesis is, in addition to offering a feminist philosophy of myth, a response and contribution to a recent, ongoing, and controversial debate within the contemporary field of mythology which has argued for the need to view myth and mythmaking, as well as scholarly analyses and theorisations of myths and mythmaking, as political artefacts embedded in, productive of, and in turn produced by power/knowledge relations. 3 The emergence of the debate signals a growing—and, I believe, long overdue—interest in the arguments and insights of the poststructural linguistic and deconstructive turn that has occurred in many areas of the social sciences and humanities since the 1960s. This interest has, in turn, led to an accumulating scholarly dissatisfaction with a number of interrelated trends that have defined the study of myth historically, but most significantly in the twentieth century. These include, but are not limited to: firstly, comparative studies of bodies of myths that do not pay enough attention to their individual cultural and temporal contexts and differences but rather extract universal structures and meaning from their analysis; secondly, a lamentable, but nonetheless telling, lack of self-reflexivity on the part of scholars of myth in assuming too sharply-drawn distinctions between their own work and theories and that of the mythmakers and myths under analysis; thirdly, a purportedly anti-reductionist tendency to consider uncritically the category of ‘myth’ as a self-evident and pre- existent a priori (that is, as a category that exists prior to any attempt to theorise and

3 Throughout the thesis I will be using the term ‘myth’ to indicate both a style of narrative and specific instances thereof, and as a discursive practice. The specific meaning I intend will be made clear from the context in which the term is used. I will use the term ‘mythology’ to refer solely to the study of myths rather than to collections of myths.


name its features and functions) and then to proceed from that assumption to render natural and universal that which is perhaps instead unnatural (constructed) and contingent; fourthly, a failure to recognise the discursive and dialogic qualities of mythmaking and myths and thus a tendency to ignore, fail to discern, or elide, the productive function of myth in a variety of power/knowledge matrices; and finally, the maintenance of a value-laden definition of myth as confined to a type of narrative genre that can be distinguished from other genres such as non-fiction, autobiography, history and so on, on the basis of its fictional content. Some contemporary scholars of myth and mythmaking, whose work I review below, have thus argued that the overly narrow categorisation of myth as ‘fictional story’ should be deconstructed in order to trace the political (that is, value-laden and partisan) interests and effects that are at work in the maintenance of generic distinctions between truthful and false narratives and, further, that this self-imposed definitional limitation on the field of mythology should itself be constituted as an object of analysis. As such, these scholars have sought to expand definitions of myth to include any

narratives or discursive forms, cultural practices, or historical events that are constituted publicly or privately as coherent and continuous, or as foundational for assertions of identity or identification, whether individual or collective.

As such, the classification of myth qua myth is seen by the scholars whose work

informs my own, after Foucault, to constitute a discursive practice—a network of actions, ambitions, and narrative representations—which encode, construct, authorise, and reconstruct an aspirational and often didactic model of human identity whether communal and individual; they are stories through which individuals and groups narrate a network of possible relationships and forms of selfhood, in the process establishing the rules according to which affiliation and identification can be maintained and agreed upon. Myths are thus one of the primary mechanisms through which identity is formulated and are thus profoundly implicated in the politics of identity. They are, from this perspective, at once a reflection of prevailing social and personal

identities and a powerfully coercive template for their formation. They signal moments

of identity formation; they raise important questions about the nature of being and origin; they involve not necessarily claims about truth, but rather moves to assert or undermine discursive authority.

A clear example of the categorisation of myth as constituting a discursive

practice in this regard, and one that I examine in Chapter 1, is how the distinction


between myth and truth was tactically embedded as a tool of domination in European

expansionism and colonialism. The portrayal of colonised people as primitive and uncivilised by virtue of their belief in myths enabled the justification of the civilising mission of colonialism insofar as a scientific worldview was promoted as being able to correct the erroneous beliefs of these people. As such, the categorisation of myth as ‘superstition’ was connected to the conventional view of European writers in the nineteenth century that science (logos) had triumphed over myth and religion. Arguably, then, the classification ‘myth’ when examined in a broader context of political interests that determine its very classification might prove to be a far from innocuous practice. As McCutcheon states, myth can become ‘a master signifier that authorises and reproduces

a specific world-view’ (2000:192). As such, the classification of myth has important

implications for understanding the practices of mythologists. Their assessment of myth

as a genre distinct from other forms of narratives or worldviews might well indicate the

projection or transference of a series of value judgements and prioritisations that reflect their own context rather than conveying something self-evident in the data classified as myth (McCutcheon 2000:193). This is a point I will suggest below is a crucial aspect of myth, mythmaking, and mythology. Mythology, like many myths, is, and has been, in this view a rhetorical mechanism for portraying variable, competing parts as static, consensual wholes. Furthermore, myths and theories about myths are alike inasmuch as both explain how things have become the way they are through a broadly narrative account. The difference, however, is that in the contemporary context myths are presumed to be false while the scholarship about them is, or at least aspires to be, true. In telling stories about the stories that others have told, mythologists attempt to position themselves as transparent adjudicators of ‘the truth’ of and about ‘myth’. They present their theories as objective and authoritative, even scientific, simultaneously promoting their own authority and credibility. However, like myths themselves, as I argue throughout this thesis, theories of ‘myth’ are produced according to, and in the context of, larger

theoretical, ideological, and cultural concerns. The assumption of objectivity—with its implication of reliability—obscures not only the ideological content of mythology and the formative role that it has played in discourses of androcentrism, secularism, nationalism, anti-Semitism, and colonialism, for example, but also the construction of a


subjectivity that is very specifically situated in the production of a progressive and primordial European identity at least since the Enlightenment. 4 As a ‘budding’ mythologist I am less interested in whether myths are true or false narratives than in what makes such a distinction both possible and necessary in the first place. It is here, with regard to challenging established symbolic structures, that Foucault’s insights on scholarly discourses are especially germane, particularly his suggestion that the development of a discipline necessarily entails the establishment of acceptable discourses, or ‘regimes of truth’. His work emphasises the need to recognise the historically and socially contingent—versus ontological or universal—status of ‘truth’ as such (see Foucault 1972; 1979). I believe that no subject or category of thought reflects some prior reality or fundamental truth—and in so saying I recognise that this constitutes somewhat of a truth claim itself—but that truth and falsity are manufactured and distinguished from each other purposefully and contingently; ‘truth’, as science fiction writer (an interesting juxtaposition itself) Ursula Le Guin has aptly phrased it, ‘is a matter of the imagination’ (1976:1). A related means, therefore, through which myths function as discourses in the technical sense developed by Foucault is in the discursive distinction forced between truthful and false narratives, a process that inscribes a mutual imbrication of power/knowledge. Foucault’s conception of ‘discourse’ and ‘discursive practices’ opens a way to see the complex and productive interplay between narrative and material reality and the integral role of power/knowledge in producing and regulating discourse through generic distinctions such as that of myth. For Foucault, it is not a case of being able to separate out material reality from the discourses that frame it and give it shape and meaning. For example, he suggests that

we must not imagine that the world turns towards us a legible face which we would only have to decipher; the world is not the accomplice of our knowledge; there is no prediscursive providence which disposes the world in our favour….We must conceive of discourse as a violence which we do to things, or in any case as a practice which we impose on them; and it is in this practice that the events of discourse find the principle of their regularity.


Of course, Foucault does not mean to imply that there is no non-discursive realm, no material world, but rather that the experience of, and any thinking about, that realm is always already, and then repeatedly, determined through discourse and the structures or limits it imposes on the activities of thinking and experiencing. Ernesto Laclau and

4 This particular aspect of the production of post-Enlightenment identity is discussed in detail in Chapter 1.


Chantal Mouffe indicate the way in which both the apprehension and the meaning of any ‘non-discursive’ object is filtered through discourse in such a way that accessing it ‘outside’ of discourse is itself, literally, meaningless:

The fact that every object is constituted as an object of discourse has nothing to do with whether there is a world external to thought….What is denied is not that such objects exist externally to thought, but rather the different assertion that they could constitute themselves as objects outside any discursive condition of emergence.


Although discourse determines the field of the knowable, Foucault also insists on the complex and productive interplay between the assertion of discourse and the forms of resistance it produces:

discourses are not once and for all subservient to power or raised up against it, any more than silences are. We must make allowances for the complex and unstable process whereby discourse can be both an instrument and an effect of power, but also a hindrance, a stumbling block, a point of resistance and a starting point for an opposing strategy. Discourse transmits and produces power; it reinforces it, but also undermines it and exposes it, renders it fragile and makes it possible to thwart it.


Foucault thus argues that discursive practices are characterised by a ‘delimitation of a field of objects, the definition of a legitimate perspective for the agent of knowledge and the fixing of norms for the elaboration of concepts and theories’ (in Bouchard 1977:199). What interests Foucault in his analysis of discourse is the way that it is regulated:

In every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality.


In tracing the regulation of discourses, he describes a particular set of procedures which both constrain and produce them. 5 These consist of three external exclusions (that is external, or prior to the production of discrete discourses): taboo or prohibition; the distinction between the reason/sanity and madness; and the distinction between truth and falsity (Foucault 1981). In the context of German romantic nationalism that I explore in Chapters 4–7, the positing of an unequivocal division between the true and the false—

5 Foucault (1981) also suggests two other sets of procedural practices that manage, produce, and constrain discourse: firstly, internal procedures of ‘rarefaction’ (a self-limiting of discourse) through the principles of the author (or, more specifically what Foucault refers to as the ‘author- function’), commentary, and disciplinarity, all of which are concerned with classifying, distributing, and ordering discourse and function to distinguish between those who are authorised to speak and those who are not; secondly, determinative procedures that are neither internal nor external and which impose a limit on the roles a speaking subject can take up and which restrict access to the forms of discourse through the institutional forms like education.


both in the context of myth as a genre of narrative and the formulation of an ‘authentic’ German identity—was a fundamental feature of the retrieval of ‘national’ folklore; vernacular narratives were represented as the repository of authentic German identity, considered to contain the essential truth of Germanness and therefore were, in themselves, self-consciously authoritative. The cosmopolitan forms of culture that emerged out of the Enlightenment and against which romanticism set itself were, by

contrast, false by virtue of their novelty, their rejection of the bounded, autochthonous, and primordial community, and their elevation of individual rationality over and against kindred feeling.

A central assumption of this thesis, therefore, refracted through my study of

myth in the context of its retrieval as an object of study and as a means through which to assert national character in the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, is the notion, first conceived by Friedrich Nietzsche and rearticulated by Michel Foucault, that the ‘will to truth’ is instead the ‘will to power’ whose very authority is enabled by an essential dissimulation, a kind of willed, or at least willing, amnesia. As such, the will to power is connected to the desire to assert a stable notion of self that is only necessary because of the very instability of the self. Here I also follow Roland Barthes’ theorisation (1973) of one of the functions of myth where myths are socially constructed narratives, usually produced by élite groups, the manufactured provenance of which is concealed by an assertion of these narratives as either natural, god-given, or pre-ordained, but in each case authoritatively truthful. As Edward Said has suggested,

Mythic language is discourse [that] cannot be anything but systematic; one does not really make discourse at will, or statements without first belonging—in some cases unconsciously, but at any rate involuntarily—to the ideology and the institutions that guarantee its existence….The principal feature of mythic discourse is that it conceals its own origins as well as those of what it describes.


I thus consider the ideological practices that signify discursive mediation in the context of mythmaking to be not just an idealised horizon against which the social world is imagined, enacted, or aspired towards, but rather a sophisticated stratagem for disguising, mystifying, or distorting important aspects of real social processes. I will thus develop an approach to myth that seeks what Frederic Jameson calls ‘the unmasking of cultural artefacts as socially symbolic acts’ (1981:20).

In adopting a discursive approach to myth and mythmaking I seek to derive a

theoretical framework that both takes seriously and challenges the ideological assumptions that govern mythmaking as a classificatory practice and which engender


myths’ authority. Consequently, the story of ‘myth’ in the course of the past several centuries that I tell in this thesis reveals the term to be an ambiguous, unstable signifier that cannot be delineated in terms of a straightforward binary distinction between truth and falsity. In seeking to understand myths not simply as (true or false) narratives but rather as discursive practices I want to show that they are discursive insofar as the production and use of myths can, perhaps surprisingly, be granted an overdetermined status of truth (on the basis of their ability to legitimate predetermined questions of identity) in counterdistinction to other narrative genres that are at odds with the hegemonic accounts of a culture’s past and present. My implicit intention in this thesis is to test out a discursive approach to myth and therefore some comment regarding how the term ‘myth’ will be understood is necessary—albeit belatedly—and I will do this through reviewing briefly the mythological literature that has influenced my thinking in this thesis. 6 Definitions of ‘myth’ in mythological scholarship are as varied and broad as myths themselves. Alan Dundes, for example, suggests that ‘a myth is a sacred narrative explaining how the world and man came to be in their present form’ and that ‘the critical adjective sacred distinguishes myth from other forms of narrative such as folktales which are ordinarily secular and fictional’ (1984:1). Wendy Doniger on the other hand suggests that myth is ‘a narrative in which a group finds, over an extended period of time, a shared meaning in certain questions about human life, to which the various proposed answers are usually unsatisfactory in one way or another’ (1996:112). In contrast, Roland Barthes, drawing on the structuralist linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure, states that ‘myth is a language’ (2000:11), by which he means that it is a structured system that has

6 I will not be reviewing the entire literature that constitutes the academic study of myth, largely because several thorough and lengthy surveys already exist and to repeat the data here would be redundant. William Doty’s Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals (1986) provides a fairly comprehensive overview of the history of the study of myth, tracing it through the various approaches that have been proposed, such as functionalism, psychology, literary analysis, structuralism, and semiotics, amongst others. However, Doty treats ‘myth’ as a distinct genre of stories rather than as a discursive practice and so his work is of limited value here. Alan Dundes’ Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth (1984) similarly offers a wideranging overview of theories of myth through an assembly of various influential writings but again assumes ‘myth’ as an unproblematic category of narrative. Robert Segal’s Theorizing Myth (1999) constructs a genealogy of individual myth theorists—Albert Camus, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Carl G. Jung, and Sigmund Freud—outlining their ideas and suggesting the ways in which they influenced each other and later thinkers. Because this thesis deals with several intersecting fields of academic knowledge—history, philosophy, feminist theory, mythology, nationalist discourse, and so on I am confining my review of literature simply to the field in which the thesis is most obviously set and to which I am responding. In the following chapters, where necessary or desirable, I review the relevant literature in the context I make use of it.


its own logic with which it establishes meaning and value through relations of both internal and external difference. While each of these definitions may convey something about myth, they are also revealing about the mythologists who offer the definitions. It thus becomes a question of why Dundes stresses the sacred nature of myth, why Doniger emphasises its longevity and believes that myths serve to resolve imponderable human dilemmas, and why Barthes makes a structural analogy between mythological narratives and linguistic systems. By way of an answer Ivan Strenski notes that ‘there may be the word “myth”, but the word names numerous and conflicting “objects” of inquiry, not a “thing” with its name written on it. Myth names a reality that we “cut out”, not one that “stands out”’ (1987:1). Thus, myth, as an object of enquiry, lends itself to diffuse interpretations that encode the subjective viewpoint of the enquirer: the selection and the exclusion of meanings in pursuit of a definition serves the interest of the theoretician or mythmaker in providing a theory of myth. This is not, superficially speaking, a controversial point; after all, meaning (signification) depends on the articulation of differences and so to theorise about myth at all seems to necessitate its differentiation from other forms of narrative. However, the tendency to differentiate myth from other genres of narrative, and from the process of mythmaking is now contested and I will demonstrate in the first chapter of this thesis why this is so. A second and related feature of much mythology is the tendency of its scholars to produce universalising explanatory theories. Thus there is, for example, the ‘Structuralist School’ which suggests that although the content, characters and events in myths may differ widely, similarities between myths are based on their structural homogeneity; or the ‘Functionalist School’ which argues that the key to understanding the role of myths in any given society is to notice the ritual context in which myths are related. The problem, as several scholars have recently noted, is that presenting a theory of myth that purports to be a complete explanation is inevitably reductionist and excludes points of view that might otherwise be illuminating about particular myths and particular contexts. Furthermore, such theorising is all too often undertaken without adequate reference to, or reflection on, competing or even complementary theories. Strenski, in particular, deplores this tendency when he remarks that the lack of serious engagement with even basic hypotheses plays ‘fast and loose with the ideas of others’



Strenski was one of the first scholars in the field to suggest a discursively oriented approach to myth, and in so doing he effectively politicised the practice of mythology by deciding to take, not only the various theories of myth seriously, but the theorists themselves and to make them an object of study alongside that of myth. In his book Four Theories of Myth in Twentieth-Century History: Cassirer, Eliade, Lévi-Strauss and Malinowski (1987) he begins by suggesting that myths must be interpreted with reference to their theorists, that these theorists must in turn be understood within their historical contexts, and that even those contexts themselves should be placed in context. Strenski’s readers would be forgiven for feeling trapped in a circular discourse of contextuality without ever being able to approach the ostensible object of study, myth. However, Strenski states from the outset that he is ‘interested in context not as explaining texts, but as serving our understanding of them; interested not in determinant causal conditions, but in what gives them sense’ (1987:9). He defines ‘context’ in a broadly discursive sense, concerned with both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ contexts and stating that it is not ‘a dispensable biographical “background” note tacked onto a theoretical discussion, a parade of…unsubstantiated or inconsequential “influences”, or…of dubiously relevant social and cultural details. Context is brought in because it matters; it makes a difference to the shape of the theory. It does not just add “local colour”’. Rather, it serves to place texts and producers of text within the ideological networks through which they gain their coherence and form and as such aims at the ‘recovery of intentions’ (ibid.). In an intellectual context, therefore, in which the ‘author’ has been proclaimed dead, is such an approach either viable or advisable? Strenski’s meticulous reconstruction of the internal and external contexts of each of the theorists he examines largely affirms his approach although it is itself undermined by his failure to interrogate his own motivations, contexts, and presuppositions. In the case of Cassirer, Strenski argues that he was motivated internally by a loyalty to German idealism and externally by the looming threat of irrationalism that appeared to be sweeping Weimar Germany. Both contexts appear to have led Cassirer to seek preserve the inherent value of myth as a precursor to science and as a necessary stage in human development which Strenski suggests constituted a motive rather than simply conveying a presupposition. What Strenski does not ask is why Cassirer was determined to remain an idealist. To suggest, as Strenski does, that Cassirer had been brought up as an idealist, transforms the ostensibly identifiable motive into a presupposition. His treatment of Malinowski is similarly partial. In seeking to explain what led Malinowski to substitute his early


romantic view of myth to a later pragmatic one he argues that internally Malinowski was motivated to shift his approach in order to fit myth within his embryonic pragmatist theory of culture. However what Strenski does not explain is why Malinowski developed such a theory in the first place and nor does he analyse the consequence of the change. He takes a similar approach to both Eliade and Lévi Strauss and runs into the same difficulties. The value of the book, however, and by implication Strenski’s approach is that he enables his readers to think differently not only about the theorists concerned but also about the theories. However, I am left unconvinced by the idea that theorists’ internal motivations and presuppositions are quite as plainly apparent as Strenski would have it. He suggests, for example, that

Theorists never invite us to join them in seeing myth in one way or another; they just tell us what it is. Theorists say ‘is’ when they should say ‘ought’….[D]espite appearances, current concepts and theories of ‘myth’ have been manufactured according to the larger theoretical professional and cultural projects assumed by the twentieth century’s leading myth theorists.


However, what Strenski does himself is precisely tell his readers about the inner lives of these theorists. Further Strenski at no place puts the two forms of context—external and internal—in dialogue which suggests to me a rather simplistic assumption about the clear separation of the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ worlds in which the theorist moves and thinks. Nonetheless, what Strenski does achieve very well is his demonstration that contexts are not easily separable from content, and this is a valuable concept for understanding how myths come to be told, retold, theorised and retheorised within a complex network of competing and sometimes contradictory contexts. In this thesis I suggest that the contexts of myth and mythmaking within the German search for origins were intertwined and as much of the meaning of the myths as what they relate. Robert Ellwood (The Politics of Myth: A Study of C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell; 1999) follows a similar approach to Strenski’s insofar as he is interested in the autobiographies of the myth theorists he examines showing how and why they may have developed the types of theories they did, of what may have been personally at stake for them. Each theorist concerned has been the subject of some controversy in the last few years as their troubling political orientations have come to light. Ellwood’s intention is to link theoretical rhetoric to the political contexts in which it emerges, and like Strenski, he generally succeeds in demonstrating the necessity of taking seriously the relationship between intellectual activity and the political commitments of scholars. He well demonstrates the extent to which these two aspects of the myth theorists’ work


were intertwined. However, at the same time he clearly seeks to recuperate their tarnished reputations, and to preserve the core at the heart of their theories. As such he takes the attitude that myths and interpretations of myth have a humanistically oriented therapeutic value in spite of the particular politics that produce them and seems therefore, to adopt a very similar stance to the theories of myths that these three theorists promote. My own approach differs quite dramatically from that of Ellwood insofar as my feminist commitments—both political and personal if such a distinction can actually be made—define the tenor of my work, the purpose it seeks accomplish, and the assumptions that I operate on the basis of. I do not believe therefore that myths and theories about myths are innocent bystanders in the midst of the politics of the theorist. Rather they are directly products of and simultaneously productive of those very political commitments as I have outlined above and as I will argue throughout the thesis. As such, in this thesis I take a very deliberate, though not necessarily conscious stance towards my material maintaining a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ but also seeking to intervene in the discourses about myth and about the politics of identity in a way motivated by my own feminist orientation. I therefore do see my theorisation of myth in this thesis to be a form of mythmaking. Russell T. McCutcheon and Bruce Lincoln are the theorists whose work informs my own approach more than any other myth theorist, largely in view of the fact that they take a similarly sceptical attitude to the possibility of separating out the political context in which theories of myths are created and the theories and myths themselves. McCutcheon’s article ‘Myth’ in the Guide to the Study of Religion (2000) suggests a determinedly and explicitly discursive approach to myth, mythmaking and mythology. He argues, for example, for a redescription of myth by thinking of it

not so much as a kind of narrative identifiable by its content…as a technique or strategy. Let us suppose that myth is not so much a genre with relatively stable characteristics that allow us to distinguish myth from folk tale, saga, legend, and fable…as a class of social argumentation found in all human cultures. Let us entertain the possibility that myths are not things akin to nouns, but active processes akin to verbs….A shift in perspective allows us to suggest (1) myths are not special…but ordinary human means of fashioning and authorizing their lived-in and believed-in ‘worlds’, (2) that myth as an ordinary rhetorical device in social construction and maintenance makes this rather than that social identity possible in the first place and (3) that a people’s use of the label ‘myth’ reflects, expresses, explores and legitimizes their own self-image.


Lincoln (Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology and Scholarship; 1999) takes up a similar approach and he extends it to interrogate the ideological investments in myth by scholars of myth. He suggests that ‘students of myth seem particularly given to


producing mythic, that is, ideological, narratives, perhaps because the stories they tell about storytelling reflect back on them as storytellers themselves’ (1999:209). In his book he covers some of the same terrain I travel over in this thesis (namely the theory of the Urheimat) and while I found much of it illuminating and helpful, Lincoln pursues his course in a fairly haphazard fashion, skating over some fairly crucial episodes without noticing their significance for the intersection of myth and mythmaking that he does suggest is the ground of mythology. He only very briefly mentions the Grimm brothers for example, whereas in this thesis I spend some considerable time considering their myth-collecting efforts as profoundly embedded in their political context and in their politics. I believe that the benefit of doing so is that several important aspects of the status of myth in nineteenth-century German are shown to be profoundly implicated in a series of ideological—both political and gendered, and aspect that each theorist neglects—contexts and discourses. Bearing these preliminary observations in mind, it is not my intention to advance a singular definition of myth in this thesis. Rather, I intend both to focus on instances of narrative discourse where some narratives are characterised as ‘myths’ vis- à-vis other categories of discourse. As I have indicated above, my own theoretical position is both poststructuralist and feminist (although I do not assume these perspectives a priori or uncritically) in that it emphasises the ideological and ontological webs of meaning that connect narratives, identities, power, and truth in a relationship of circulating interdependence.

III. Structure of the Thesis

Contemporary mythology, I think it is safe to say, has been the study of a male line of thought, and as such it has itself produced a patrilineal narrative that has traced the protean meanings of myth—its functions, forms, structures, and implications—through the work of male scholars, naming them either as the fathers of the field or as the male inheritors of a paternal legacy. The story that mythologists have conventionally told about the origins and development of the field has been an entirely male script, originating with Plato’s largely successful attempt to prioritise the truth-telling qualities of logos against the fantastical tale-telling of muthos as exemplified in the poetry of Homer and Hesiod. Interestingly, the field of philosophy which constitutes myth as its other also traces its origins to the same scene. Although the Platonic view of myth has been reproduced in the history of the field of mythology—certainly in the nineteenth


century—I do not want to acquiesce in the self-understanding of the field as one that begins with superstitious stories and ends in reasoned propositions that then serve to mirror and legitimate European modes of knowledge that privilege rationality. To do so would be to assume what I believe to be an unsustainable teleological continuity between the Platonic reversal of the valuations inscribed in the terms muthos and logos and the interest in myth as an object of scholarly interest that emerged in the aftermath of the Renaissance. Rather, I am interested in the conditions that made this interest not only possible, but also desirable, or, put another way, why it was that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries influential intellectuals of the day made it their business to investigate and define myth. What was it about this particular period that made the study of myth necessary? In Chapter 1, therefore, I begin with an analysis of the social and intellectual context in which myth became a new object of scholarly discourse, suggesting that the roots of contemporary mythology lie not in ancient Greece but rather in the seventeenth-century battle between the philosophes of the Enlightenment and the hegemony of the Church. However much this struggle may seem to have repeated the struggle between Plato and the poets to establish a ‘regime of truth’ there is little evidence that it was undertaken entirely referentially. Foucault has suggested that at the heart of any unifying principle of continuous history lies the human subject creating and ensuring meaning for itself (Foucault 1972:12). In agreement with Foucault, my concern in Chapter 1 is thus to demonstrate that the categorisation of ‘myth’ vis-à-vis other types of narrative in the Enlightenment rationalist and parallel romanticist paradigms was allied to attempts to assert a discursive authority that could present certain forms of identity as self-evident, fixed, and naturalised. Each paradigm will thus be shown to have provided the basis for narratives, metanarratives, and self-referential discourses of varied ideological persuasions where myths embodied and advanced the interests of those who narrated or studied them. The core organisational framework of the chapter is an examination, in both the Enlightenment and romantic paradigms, of the way in which the categorisation and valuation of myth played into and was in large part productive of wider preoccupations with the form, substance, and status of human identity. I take seriously, therefore, Foucault’s argument that

One has to dispense with the constituent subject, to get rid of the subject itself, that’s to say, to arrive at an analysis which can account for the constitution of the subject within a historical framework. And this is what I would call genealogy, that is, a form of history which can account for the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects etc., without having to make reference to a subject which is


either transcendental in relation to the fields of events or runs in its empty sameness throughout the course of history.


This is another reason why I am reluctant to accept the account of mythology as originating with Plato. To do so would be to presuppose that the attempt to assert the unity and autonomy of the individual subject in the Enlightenment period was simply a reiteration of the classical Greek conception of the self. If this were the case, then the Enlightenment was redundant before it even began, at least insofar as it inaugurated a conception of the self that was novel to the western philosophical traditions. In contrast, I pursue my questions regarding the form and content of the formulation of subjectivity and its relationship to the categorisation of myth within the context of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, precisely because it was in this period that the notion of a unified subject in western philosophy was produced. The Enlightenment view of myth was one that asserted myths’ irrational and untruthful or ‘primitive’ qualities which had to be discarded by the enlightened individual. These qualities in turn were contrasted with the truthfulness of the Enlightenment’s own scientific or rationalist discourse that was then allied to—and which to some extent justified—conceptions of the autonomous and reasoning individual and human progress. Moreover, this was achieved by placing myths at the origin of humanity’s encounter with the world, seeing them as an explanatory tool. In the romantic view, against the Enlightenment imposition of universal ontology, myths were seen nostalgically as a retrievable reservoir—an origin—of ancient wisdom and collective identity that could offer the hope of a return to nationally specific and thus authentic forms of identity. These two moments that witnessed and provoked a new interest in myth represent, in my view, the point at which contemporary understandings of myth and subjectivity emerge, not as a seamless progression, but as discontinuous and mutually imbricated moments of articulation. In addition to situating contemporary mythology historically in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Chapter 1 also serves to provide an overview of the intellectual context within which Johann Gottfried Herder, an influential myth theorist whose work I explore in Chapter 2, formulated his organic conception of the roles and functions of myth. Chapter 2 thus moves to examine the mobilisation of myth—and its connection to notions of ethnic identity—in the work of Herder insofar as it served as a precursor to the romantic attitude to myth that characterised German nationalism. The chapter begins by outlining the context in which the assertion of a politically stable


sense of German national identity was considered to be an increasingly urgent task but one that was made difficult, if not impossible, due to the regional and religious fragmentation that characterised the German-speaking territories and the French cultural and political imperialism that espoused a doctrine of cosmopolitanism and denigrated indigenous forms of culture. The consequence was a renewed expression of anxiety about the status and identity of the German people. However, the question of German identity had, in fact, long been a source of debate and controversy, particularly when the German people were compared, as they frequently were, to those European societies that could more firmly locate their cultural pedigree in classical Greece and Rome. In the second section of the chapter, therefore, I examine how the German humanists of the fifteenth century turned to Tacitus’ Germania to claim a noble ancestry that was equal, if not superior, to those of other European nations on the basis of Tacitus’ description of the ancient Germans as an autochthonous race that had never intermarried with others. I also trace how the recovery of Tacitus as a source for what became a cult of Germanic heroic virtue was further traced through the story told in Tacitus’ Annals of the hero Arminius who defeated the Roman legions in 9 CE, and how it became a rallying force for cultivating German patriotism. The Germania and the story of Arminius, over the course of the next few centuries, were employed to render credible a belief in the unbroken continuity of the German people from a singular point of origin, an idea that was skilfully exploited by German humanists from the Renaissance onwards to oppose first Roman, and then French hegemony. In the third section of the chapter I present an overview of Herder’s theories of myth, and show them to be founded on the assumption, secured through recourse to Tacitus, of the uniqueness of the German people (Volk). Herder’s view of the history of human development is one in which its iterative and accumulative quality is emphasised: a community accrues its culture and tradition through its interaction with unique geographical, linguistic, and historical confluences, a process which is embedded in what he calls the Naturordnung (‘natural order’). It is myth, for Herder, which inscribes the innate characteristics of the Volk, serving as the form par excellence through which their cultural values and worldviews are transmitted and Herder portrays this transmission in patrilineal terms. Herder’s ideas, in this regard, also proved influential for the German romantics of the nineteenth century whose work I examine in Chapters



Before tracing Herder’s influence on the emergence of German romanticism, however, in Chapter 3 I examine the broader European context within which Herder developed many of his theories. It was a context marked by an accelerating nostalgia for a pure origin within Europe more generally, derived from a literal reading of Biblical narrative, and the support it found within eighteenth-century philology. William Jones’ discovery of the lexical affiliations of Sanskrit with Latin and Greek as well as many of the other extant European languages was a decisive event in this regard. I therefore examine how, in the aftermath of Jones’ work, the discursive construction of mythical ideas about race (in this case a belief in what were eventually designated as the ‘Aryan’ origins of the European race) and a conception of the Urheimat (‘original homeland’) were intertwined with the philological belief that both the original language (Ursprache) of humanity and (by implication) the original people (Urvolk) would be identifiable. Underlying all these hypotheses was an attempt to sever European ancestry from any dependent relationship to what was identified as the Semitic language group and thus to the Semitic religions of Judaism and Christianity. In Chapter 7 I follow up the significance of these debates for the claim, which was made in the latter half of the nineteenth century, that it was the German people who were original people and that it was their land which was the original homeland; before I do that, however, I break off my narrative to examine the parallel preoccupation with origins that occurred in Germany during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, one which played into the development of a nationalist rhetoric of unity and prestigious origins promoted by the German romantics. Chapter 4 provides an overview of the scholarly literature on nationalism in order to establish what I believe to be the form that romantic German nationalism took, and what its significance was for the formulation of national unity on the basis of shared cultural and myth traditions (rather than that on the basis of the contractual arrangements which underpinned the French and British concepts of nationality). I also examine how concepts of myth and gender are developed in cultural nationalism to produce a triadic rhetoric of national unity where vernacular myths are wielded as evidence of primordial unity and a golden age that forms the basis for a future utopia, and where the gender of the nation and of the national citizen is expressed in patrilineal terms, confining women to a passive role as symbols rather than active creators of the nation. I then apply these theories of nationalism to the emergence of the nationalist rhetoric produced by the German romantics in the first half of the nineteenth century


against a backdrop of French occupation. As such, I provide a chronology of the German romantic movement, presenting an overview of the main intellectuals who were involved, and showing how three interrelated elements—synthesis, providence, and nostalgia—characterised their efforts to define both the German national character and the retrieval of German origins. Chapter 5 turns to look more systematically at the romantic nostalgia for origins as expressed in the recuperative efforts of scholars like the Grimm brothers who sought to elevate folklore to the status of a national myth tradition preserving the authentic nature of the ancient German character. I query the extent to which the folklore they collected in their Kinder- und Hausmärchen was actually a repository of authenticity, showing how their editorial practices involved a selective presentation of folk traditions, one that excluded its more bawdy elements and which promoted a bourgeois sentiment of respectability and a didactic attitude towards women as appropriately silent and passive. The implication of such a gendered division was that women had no role to play in the nation building effort. It further inscribed a patrilineal logic of national inheritance where traditions were passed from father to son. Chapter 6 continues this analysis of the nostalgia for origins by examining Wilhelm Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie, a publication that was the most systematic and comprehensive contribution to the creation of a national mythology. Grimm believed that the meticulous analysis of textual sources following rigorous philological principles, supplemented by the study of folk narratives and practices, would peel back the layers of the past and reveal the pure source of German myth traditions and therefore the character of the German Urvolk. Similarly to the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Grimm presented this national mythology in patrilineal terms, that is, as rooted in the cult of the father god Odin who had created the world. Grimm used a variety of sources to sketch out the contours of German mythology, none of which were more important than Tacitus’ Germania and the Scandinavian Prose Edda. The second section of the chapter discusses the outcome of Grimm’s work as the effort to construct a national mythology moved out from the rarefied atmosphere of academic institutions into the public arena through art, monument building, and national festivals of remembrance and where the figures of Arminius, Germania, and Odin were celebrated as representatives of the spirit of the German people. The landscape in this process was thus simultaneously ‘territorialised’ and sacralised through the nostalgic depiction of the German past as a golden age that would be reborn through collective acts of


memorialisation. More importantly, this territorialisation was defined in entirely masculine and patrilineal terms. In Chapter 7 I turn to examine the resulting production—within a German nationalist discourse heavily indebted to Herder’s theories of myth, to the national mythology of the Grimms, and to the synthesising doctrines of the Schlegel brothers in particular—of a reinvented model of manly, pure, blond, and bellicose German Aryan identity. This assertion of identity was enabled by the utilisation of indigenous myths and by the ‘discovery’ of ancient origins, but it was given further support by a macabre counterpoint imposed through what was an actively conjured image of the effeminate and parasitic Jew threatening the purity of the Volk. As such, I follow up the discussion that I begin in Chapter 3, where a distinction between a Semitic provenance and an Indo-Aryan origin for the European people was enforced by scholars in search of the original language. I will argue that in these models of German identity a discourse of differentiation is clearly visible, one that is indebted to a variety of mythological strategies of identity formation and legitimation strengthened through the location of an uncontaminated and thus singular origin. The chapter concludes with a theorisation of the pivotal role played by the longing for an origin in the politics of German identity as predicated on a patrilineal model of inheritance and a discourse of differentiation. Chapter 8 begins the task of placing all this preceding material within a more explicitly theoretical framework by analysing the patrilineal preoccupations of the German search for origins as symptomatic of a broader trend in the history of western thought whereby paternity is prioritised as the source of stable identity. In chapters 8–10 I discuss a number of theoretical paradigms in some detail, rather than by way of summary, in view of the fact that, within the field of mythology and the broader field of religious studies, theories of the type I deal with are quite often unfamiliar and have consequently not been given much attention. In the first two sections of Chapter 8 I discuss the emergence of some recent theories of narrative identity, particularly that of Paul Ricœur. I show that although Ricoeur offers a relatively insightful account of the narration of identity, his analysis resembles in some important ways the triadic rhetoric of cultural nationalism discussed in Chapter 4. Ricœur reproduces this model insofar as he proposes that the narration of identity is predicated on the need to resolve the paradoxical relationship of two forms of temporality but adopts an attitude towards temporality as necessarily linear and continuous within the context of narrative; and he suggests that linearity is foundational to the ways in which humans grant meaning to


their sense of self. In my view, therefore, the usefulness of his model is limited as regards investigating what may in fact be the fragmentary nature of human identity that linear narration tries to cover over. I analyse how such a model of continuity and linearity may in fact be indebted to a form of inflected and obscured patriliny, drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous and their respective analyses of logocentrism and phallogocentrism to argue my case. My discussion of Derrida and Cixous leads me to an analysis of the paradox of subject-formation in which the self is placed in an agonistic relationship to others, along a series of oppositional axes where similarity/difference, singularity/duality, inclusion/exclusion, autonomy/dependence, and self/other are set up dialectically. In contrast, Derrida’s and Cixous’ critiques reveal selfhood to be defined by otherness rather than vice versa and their work enables me to analyse, as a first step, the ways in which the self might simultaneously narrate itself and be narrated in a dialogic rather than dialectic process. The implications of this dialogic interdependence imply the instability of selfhood, against the Enlightenment view surveyed in Chapter 1, and also of ‘narrative’ itself. With this alternative concept of narrative identity in mind, the chapter concludes with an extended analysis of the function and forms of patrilinearity within western metaphysics as situated within a phallogocentric economy of self/other and I argue here that the central feature of patrilinearity as a model of identity is an obsessive preoccupation with singularity, particular insofar as a father is asserted as a primal origin. This notion of singularity is analysed as fragile and tenuous, on the basis that paternity itself is uncertain, but the prioritisation of the figure of the father-as-origin and cause against the mother works to stabilise identity and construe it as linearly continuous. In Chapter 9, I examine the work of Jacques Lacan in order to follow up the discussion of fragile subjectivity and patrilinearity I began in the previous chapter. Lacan’s (post)structuralist rereading of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories offer a means, I argue, of identifying the potential causes for the prioritisation of patrilinearity as a means of asserting the singular, autonomous, rational self. Although Lacan’s elevation of (phallic) subjectivity as a universal model of ontology presents difficulties for a feminist theory of subjectivity, his work is important, I will argue, because it brings into question the Cartesian model of the self (discussed in Chapter 1) by demonstrating its dependence on the unconscious rather than the conscious realm. His theorisation of the three registers of infant development—the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic— further suggests that subjectivity is, from a very early stage in an individual’s life,


constituted through an irresolvable division, or what in Freudian terms is understood as an original cathexis. That is, the individual comes to recognise itself as a self (ego) across axes of self and other, subject and object, inside and outside, lack and plenitude. Far from being self-contained and autonomous, the self, in Lacanian terms, is intersubjective, depending for existence on relations with others. My discussion of Lacanian psychoanalysis also serves as an introduction to the technical vocabulary used by Julia Kristeva to theorise subjectivity as ‘in process’ which I examine in the final chapter.

The final chapter I demonstrate the problems that emerge from the prioritisation of singularity—exclusion, oppression, and marginalisation—and point towards a feminist philosophy of myth, based on the work of Julia Kristeva, to posit that a ‘myth’ (in the sense of ‘narrative’) of maternal origin, extrapolated from a metaphor of the maternal body as split, in process, and oriented towards otherness with love, provides a preferable foundation for—and means of—construing subjectivity dialogically. I outline the main themes in Kristeva’s work and pay particular attention to her work on maternality as a being-towards-otherness. I will argue that her theorisation of a maternal economy implies an ethical orientation missing from patrilineal economies of identity. I therefore develop her work to focus in particular on the maternal body as a model for identity but I extend it to suggest that the maternal body may also serve as a metaphor for fragmented (rather than linear and continuous) myth where the tension between self and other, difference and sameness, truth and falsity are never mastered but always held in creative tension. As such, I will argue, against her critics, that Kristeva offers a solid and ethical framework for posing the self as multiple and transgressive, and as unable logically to resolve its paradoxical strands of singularity and multiplicity. I conclude by arguing that the maternal body as a discursively construed ‘myth of (multiple) origins’ inscribes a fruitful arena in which the political project of feminism, and indeed other liberatory projects, might find a way of challenging some of the deep structures of thought that have contributed to the marginalisation and exclusion of not only women but also of the groups of people and individuals regularly constituted as ‘other’ to the western normatively masculinised self. I therefore propose that a feminist philosophy of myth, mythmaking, and mythology must necessarily be a critical and political subversion of singularity and patrilineal logic affirmed by ‘mainstream’ mythology. Identity, place, origin, belonging, and myth may consequently be reconfigured as a network of contingent and transgressive sites of self-constitution that


open a space for an ethical orientation towards otherness and for breaking down the divisions between philosophy and its other, myth.






The story that mythologists have conventionally told about the origins and development of the field has tended to begin with Plato’s largely successful attempt to prioritise the truth-telling qualities of logos against the fantastical tale-telling of muthos as exemplified in the poetry of Homer and Hesiod. The term ‘myth’ (muthos) first appeared in the archaic Greek tradition meaning ‘speech’ in the works attributed to Homer and Hesiod (circa eighth century BCE). The role of poetry as a form of muthos was presented by Homer and Hesiod, who were poets themselves, to be one wholly concerned with the transmission of truth. Poetry as muthos, in this view was not just true; it was also edifying, exemplary, authoritative, and masculine. In the earliest extant narratives of the archaic Greek tradition, namely the epic poetry ascribed to Homer (the Iliad, Odyssey, and Homeric Hymns) and to Hesiod (Theogony and Works and Days), muthos refers to a type of speech act which is understood to be candid, blunt and aggressive, but nonetheless completely truthful and always associated with men—kings, priests, warriors, and poets. Muthos is thus a speech act that is intended to enforce the compliance of those to whom it is directed, and only those similar in rank or status to the speaker can challenge or reply to it. In contrast, when logos is used in the Homeric epics it denotes speech that is duplicitous, cunning, persuasive through guile, but also soothing and comforting. As such it marks the speech, of women, the weak and young, and the shrewd (Lincoln 1999:10; 1996:7–11) and provides a weapon against the strong. Logos is thus viewed in the epics as both unprincipled and treacherous. However, the meaning and value of the muthos/logos couplet shifted considerably over time, so much so, in fact, that by the time of Plato’s death (circa 347 BCE) its status had radically changed, largely as a result of Plato’s own efforts to affect a reversal and to elevate logos above muthos. Plato’s contribution to, and invention of, the problem of myth resided in his reorganisation of the vocabulary of ‘speech’ in ancient Greece (Brisson 1998:90). He contrasted non-agonistic muthos with the combative discourse of philosophical logos and negatively caricatured poets’ myths as false, childish stories that could corrupt the credulous. Plato essentially sought to offer an ideological justification for the demotion


of poetry and muthos from their central role in defining Greek identity and to promote his own idealisation of philosophy and logos as more truthful, more masculine, and thus more authoritative. Plato’s oppositional classification of muthos and logos has become something of a master trope in popular and scholarly discussions of myth. However, as McCutcheon suggests, one of the reasons that Plato’s reversal of the values of muthos and logos has been considered to be the origin of mythology, may be that it has ‘more to do with the modern European “imaginary” Greece—among the most often used genealogical authorities for sanctioning everything from our own classificatory language to our culture—than with the historical Greek meaning of mythos and logos’ (2000:191). As such, contemporary mythology does share in common with these ancient Greek poets and philosophers an attempt to legitimate a monopoly on the truth. Although the term myth is regularly used as an uncontested classificatory term to distinguish one kind of discourse or narrative from another, it seems, however, that the use of the category in contemporary scholarship is intellectually committed to an a priori clear division between fact and fiction, truth and falsehood, superstition and science, and, as I shall show, ‘us’ and ‘them’. As McCutcheon suggests,

the power to label someone’s story as myth, and to classify our world-view as ‘scientific’ over against their world-view as ‘mythic’ is not only to classify stories, but people (are they gullible or intelligent?), societies (are they uncivilized or civilized?) and cultures (are they primitive or advanced?). The apparently straightforward distinction between false and true tales (mythos vs. logos) is therefore loaded with social significance and consequence.


The classification of muthos against logos in ancient Greece was certainly ‘loaded with social significance’ and was furthermore embedded in a broader social context where individuals, whether poets or philosophers, were engaged in a struggle for signifying supremacy, to be recognised as truth-tellers par excellence. Moreover, as I will show in this chapter, these distinctions have been rhetorically aligned to a series of moral, social and political values and I believe that this has implications for how mythology is practiced today. In this chapter I consider a different genealogy for mythology—the new interest in myth that arose in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries— which, although it inscribed a similar struggle between rival ‘regimes of truth’ (Foucault 1980:109–133) to that of the poets and philosopher in ancient Greece, provides, in my view, a more obvious starting point for the history of contemporary mythology. This is primarily because the way in which contemporary mythology has come to define itself has been with regard to the kinds of categorisations between myth and other types of


narrative genre that were created during the period in question. I will, however, return to the relationship between myth and philosophy in the final chapter of this thesis to demonstrate their interdependency. Plato’s famous critique of myth, with its stress on the truthfulness of logos against the mendacity of muthos, is a pervasive and popular understanding of myth that is said still to operate today; his dismissal of the mythic genre as unreliable and untruthful has been one of its most familiar formulations in both popular parlance and some forms of academic mythology. In the immediate aftermath of Plato’s efforts, the category of myth became so thoroughly discredited that even the Romans, who borrowed so much else from the Greeks, did not adopt the term. Instead, they referred to the narratives the Greeks knew as muthoi with the term fabulae which, as Lincoln reminds us, ‘had no major ambiguities at its core and conveyed the lack of seriousness with which [mythic] tales were regarded’ (1999:x). However, the new intellectual concern with Greek culture from the Renaissance onwards led to a revival of interest in myths 1 and culminated in the formation of the field of mythology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which took two dominant forms: that of post-Enlightenment rationalism—where myths were viewed in ‘Platonic’ terms as the erroneous and superstitious productions of the primitive mind—and that of romanticism where myths were celebrated as the distillation of national character. Any study of the recovery of the mythic genre during this period could be the subject of a lengthy monograph in itself. However, in this chapter I will offer a more attenuated account by outlining the intellectual history of concepts concerning myth in eighteenth-century Europe in order to provide the background for my later analysis of one of the most under-studied causes of the development of myth and mythology: that of the authorising function of the past, particularly as it asserts and exploits a point of origin. The utilisation of originary myths, supporting intricate imaginations of the past, underpinned the rhetoric of progress which dominated the ideological constellations of the Enlightenment, and out of which rationalist mythology emerged. This mythology served as a foil against which a second type of mythology was developed, which was the consequential romantic nostalgia for origins that fuelled the search for a set of myths upon which emergent nation-states could be founded. The conceptualisation of the past as a site of origin in both of these contexts facilitated—or manufactured—the authenticity and legitimacy of self-sustaining identities. Origins also acted to delineate

1 See Bietenholz 1994; Mali 1992:136–209; Gay 1966:236–255; Feldman and Richardson 1972:3–164.


an unbroken and decisively linear, and as I will show, patrilinear, connection of the past to the present in the service of, for example, nationalist discourse, and simultaneously marked a point of departure for triumphalist discourses of civilisation and progress that marked European colonial projects. For both romanticism and rationalism, temporality infused a politics of spatiality where the mythicisation of the past enabled the relationship to, and reorganisation and redistribution of geographical territory. The romantic and rationalist narratives of the past were indispensable platforms from which to advance hegemonic articulations of individuality that had, and still have, profound implications for understanding the status and function of myths within the politics of identity. The aim of this chapter is thus to survey the philosophical and ideological contexts—firstly the Enlightenment and secondly romanticism—wherein contemporary and common attitudes towards myth were first formulated, before moving, in the following chapters, to an analysis of the material conditions that formed the enunciated content of romanticism in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Germany.

I. Ideals of Identity in the Age of Reason

Hugh Kenner sounds a cautionary note when he warns of the perils of fixing the Enlightenment in a historically coherent frame: ‘The Enlightenment lingers in our intellectual histories as a puzzling phenomenon, puzzling because it is so hard to say briefly what it was. It lacks chronology, it lacks locality, it lacks identity….It perhaps hardly knew that it was happening’ (1962:1). Nonetheless, I will tentatively propose a few aspects of the Enlightenment that will at least serve as a basis for the discussion of the features of Enlightenment thought as they concerned the definition of myth and its relationship to identity. My intention here is to paint a picture in broad strokes by way of summary rather than to offer a full survey. 2 Although the discussion in this section of the core features of Enlightenment thought and rationalism is broad, I trace them here in order to demonstrate the ideologies against which romanticism, particularly in Germany, sought to define itself. In addition, I realise that any attempt to classify

2 Many excellent surveys already exist, the most notable being Hampshire 1957, Nicolson 1960, Harris 1964, Gay 1966, Berlin 1979, Solomon 1988, Hampson 1990, Lloyd 1993 and Outram 1995. Much of my thinking in this section has been guided, in particular, by Peter Gay’s The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1966). He shows how the ideas and aspirations of the Enlightenment project were both the result and simultaneously productive of very particular and interpenetrating social and historical conditions. His work provides a thorough survey of the Enlightenment thinkers’ ideological constructs placed firmly within their cultural climate and thus offers a necessary corrective to the tendency, in many of the intellectual histories of the period, to offer contextually detached surveys of its core ideas.


historical events into categories like ‘The Enlightenment’, or even ‘romanticism’ are what Foucault has called the ‘mutation of Order into History’ (1970:220), that is, that these categories can only apply retrospectively and loosely to moments that, at the time, were not necessarily conceived of in those terms. 3

(i) Enlightenment Subjects: Reason and Being

The Enlightenment signalled the rise of scientific knowledge and methods over the scriptural authority of the Church, and emerged first in Britain (Scotland and England) at the end of the seventeenth century, before penetrating the philosophical traditions of France (culminating in the French Revolution of 1789 with its rallying cry ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité!’), Germany, Spain, and Italy. The philosophers and intellectuals broadly associated with the Enlightenment 4 were by no means homogeneous in their approaches or philosophies and can further be understood to have contributed philosophical ideas that were differentiated both by geographical boundaries 5 and by a generational evolution in ideas. 6 However, together their work was a vehicle for a lengthy and wide- ranging debate that had at its heart a moralising belief in human autonomy, freedom, and equality, and the universal adequacy of (scientific) knowledge for the establishment of a just society organised around principles of individual rights. A central feature of Enlightenment philosophy was its novel and influential elaboration of individuality. It was Descartes who, through his deductive system of cognition, initially posited what Jantzen refers to as the ‘founding gesture of the subject in modernity’ (1998:32). Jantzen is correct in situating Descartes at the effective beginning of modernity in the Enlightenment, particularly when considered in the light of Jean-François Lyotard’s analysis of modernity’s distinguishing qualities. Lyotard presents these qualities in terms of two ‘metanarratives’ (1984:31–37) which Frederic Jameson, in his foreword to Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition, appropriately calls

3 For example, many of the thinkers considered representative of the Enlightenment paradigm did not consider themselves to be living in a time of Enlightenment. See Gay 1966:20.

4 For example, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) (although he is also classed as a Renaissance thinker), René Descartes (1596–1650), John Locke (1632–1704), Isaac Newton (1643–1727), François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778), David Hume (1711–1776), and Adam Smith (1723–1790) amongst others.

5 Hence, it is common to refer to the Scottish, French, and German (Aufklärung) Enlightenments, for example. See Porter and Teich 1981.

6 Gay suggests that the traditional chronology of the Enlightenment marks its beginning with the English Revolution (1640–1660) and its end with the French Revolution of 1789 and he argues that the Enlightenment ‘was the work of three overlapping, closely associated generations’ whose relationships he charts (1966:17).


‘legitimizing myths’ (1984:ix). These metanarratives can be understood as the essence of the modernist paradigm: that of the liberation of humanity by progress and that of the unity of knowledge. The first metanarrative suggests that, for intellectual élites, knowledge of the unfolding of history, pursued, communicated and managed by these élites, is capable of freeing humanity from the fetters of ignorance, as it demonstrably elicits and enacts progress. The second metanarrative promotes an abstract, rational scientific method in the service of emancipation through accumulated funds of knowledge. Under this formulation the particular is subordinated to the abstract; the past to the present; the local to the universal. Descartes suggested that the individual is stable, coherent, and knowable and that the truth of existence can consequently be conceived and established: ‘I am, I exist, whenever I utter or conceive it in my mind, is necessarily true’ (1969:67). Extrapolating from this idea, and arriving at his famous statement ‘cogito ergo sum’, 7 Descartes proposed that the primary attribute of the individual is that it is essentially interior, conscious, rational, autonomous, and universal—no physical conditions or differences can substantially affect how it operates. It could know itself and the world through reason, or rationality, which, for Descartes, was the highest and only form of mental functioning. 8 Some of the other thinkers in the Enlightenment mode, most notably Newton and Francis Bacon, 9 anticipated Descartes’ formulations by positing that the mode of knowing produced by the objective rational self was science, which in turn could provide universal truths about the world regardless of the individual status of the knower. This utopian vision suggested that the knowledge produced by science was truthful and eternal and could only lead toward progress and perfection, an idea well encapsulated by one of the architects of the French Republic, Marquis de Condorcet, writing while he was in prison awaiting execution in the aftermath of the Revolution:

How consoling for the philosopher who laments the errors, the crimes, the injustices which still pollute the earth and of which he is often the victim, is this view of the

7 See Descartes 1637; 1644.

8 Hume and Locke both objected strenuously to Descartes uncritical confidence in abstract reason and speculation (the cogito), suggesting instead the ability of human beings to know the world through, in Locke’s case, their senses, and in Hume’s case, the role of nature in providing a model of reasonable behaviour. Nevertheless, they assumed the central Cartesian metaphor of the distinction between mind and body, holding that knowledge is concerned with the examination of the mind (Solomon and Higgins 1996:188). 9 Bacon is widely considered to be the founder of the modern scientific tradition—with its emphasis on the disinterested knower—and in particular theorised science as the ultimate realm of human knowledge over nature (Solomon and Higgins 1996:165–166; 177; Gay 1966:233)


human race, emancipated from its shackles, released from the empire of fate and from that of the enemies of its progress, advancing with a firm and sure step along the path of truth, virtue and happiness.


Thus, a further idea was that all human institutions and practices could be analysed by knowledge and improved. As Descartes asserted, ‘one may reach conclusions of great usefulness in life, and discover a practical philosophy…and thus make ourselves masters and owners of nature’ (1969:46). Scientific knowledge as neutral and objective therefore stood for Enlightenment philosophes—particularly for Bacon and the intellectuals who immediately followed—as the paradigm for any and all socially useful forms of knowledge. Another important aspect of the Enlightenment formulation of identity, and its extended prescription for the activity of scholars concerned with the validation of rational epistemology 10 was the definitive opposition presumed between mind and body, known now as Cartesian dualism. Jantzen suggests that, for Descartes, the ‘thinking being defines itself by contrasting itself to all that can be considered not to think. The body and the material world become the non-thinking Other of the rational subject, to be brought under its strict control and mastery’ (1998:32). Distinguishing the mind and body in this way could ensure the priority of science as the mode of knowledge par excellence—as the tool with which the physical world and the laws of nature could be reliably comprehended—and could enable the promotion of rationality as transcendent and disembodied. Thus, the equation of rationality and mind with truth was placed beyond doubt and the body was associated with a second-order, degraded ontology. The most significant characteristic of individuality presented in this mode is its universal posture. As Solomon and Higgins wryly remark, ‘the subjectivity so celebrated was, without a doubt, a distinctively European subjectivity. The objectivity it claimed, however, was global’ (1996:178). Crucially, this narrative of universality coincided with, and was productive of, European colonial expansion. The vision of progress elaborated by the philosophers of the Enlightenment in fact necessarily depended on economic prosperity that not only could support intellectual endeavour, but which could enable the realisation of a ‘just’ society, that is, one where individuals were granted the rights of equal citizenry. The idea of the just society however was

10 It was Descartes, again, who established the basic principle of certainty and immunity from doubt for philosophical investigation in the Enlightenment. Thus in his epistemology, reason itself had to be ratified and could not be assumed to be self-evident (Solomon and Higgins 1996:183).


initially only actuated within the borders of élite and educated reaches of European society: only those who had achieved the appropriate level of civilisation (by virtue of their powers of reason and domination of nature) were able to appreciate its benefits. The intention was, however, that the advantages of civilisation could, and would, eventually be extended to both the benighted lower classes and non-European colonised populations once they acceded to élite European cultural superiority. However, this ostensibly benevolent view elided the fact that the affluence that made the Enlightenment model of civilisation possible came from the toil of others, through co- opting the lower classes in the project of industrialisation, through slavery, and through the colonial administration of the wealth of other nations.

(ii) Religion, Reason, and Secularism

To a large extent, the Enlightenment’s most prominent ideas mirrored, at least structurally, those that had been promoted in the dominant medieval and post- Reformation theologies of the preceding centuries, particularly insofar as they posited universal truths that were accessible to human consciousness. However, it was the Enlightenment account of ontology in terms of rational individualism that also served— forcefully and with hostility towards a system dominated by clerical élites—to mark it apart, particularly in the way that it stressed the autonomy of human reasoning and experience—rather than divine revelation—in comprehending the nature of the cosmos, and the place and function of individuals within it. The hegemony of the Church was thus increasingly viewed as an obstacle in the way of the more modulated idea of human individuality articulated in Enlightenment epistemology (Gay 1966:59). Truth was now not to be found in the Scriptures but in the individual mind of the rational, autonomous person who was the only reliable source of truth. An inevitable consequence of this realisation was the challenge to the relationship of church and state, an example being the collapse of the ancien régime centred on the belief in the divine right of kings to rule in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The roots of this splenetic programme are to be found in the deist school of thought of the latter seventeenth century, in that it offered a prolegomenon to the ruthless anticlericalism prevalent amongst the philosophes of the Enlightenment (see Gay 1966:374–382; Feldman and Richardson 1972:25–35). Deism initially emerged in England but quickly spread to mainland Europe and was arguably as revolutionary as the Enlightenment’s rejection of Christianity as a tradition mired in superstition and the


iniquitous imposition of hierarchical arrangements justified on the basis of divine sanction. The deists 11 can be classed as a school of thought in the sense that, for all their differences, they collectively worked to reject the authoritative Christian teaching of divine revelation in favour of emancipated and purely rationalistic speculation concerning religion. Many of the English deists were broadly materialistic in their doctrines, while the French thinkers (for example, Voltaire), who subsequently built upon the foundations laid by the English deists, were almost exclusively so. Others were content simply to offer veiled, cautious criticism of ecclesiastical authority in teaching the infallible inspiration of the Scriptures, and of the belief in an external revelation of supernatural truth given by God to humanity. There was a considerable divergence in method observable in the writings of the various deists, but in terms of the substance of their critiques they were largely in agreement: deism, in all its forms, was uniformly hostile to the traditional teaching of revealed religion and the assertion of the clergy that they alone could act as mediators of such a revelation (see Feldman and Richardson, op. cit.).

Broadly speaking then, the deists as a group suggested that religion could and should be reduced to what could be verified about God—‘his’ purposes, and an individual’s religious duty—by reason alone. Most deists held that all religion was, in its origins, monotheistic and a rational and natural response to the fact of God’s existence and benevolence as displayed in nature. Moreover, they believed that the proliferation of religious cults and polytheism, the invention of elaborate rituals, mysteries, and the imposition of priestly authority, were all corruptions of the one true, natural religion. Edward Herbert, for example, in his De Veritate (‘On Truth’; 1624) rejected the claims of revelatory religion, an infallible Church, and the authority of priests, as perversions of ‘true religion’. True religion, for Herbert, was a wholly rational matter consisting in an acceptance of ‘common notions’ that all people could share: a belief in one supreme and good God; a conviction that God’s authority and goodness was based on the pious being rewarded and sinners being punished both in this world and the next; and a belief in the necessity of repentance for sins. There is, of course, nothing in this formulation that need necessarily be considered as uniquely Christian, and indeed Herbert’s comparative discussion of ancient religions in De Religione Gentilium (On the Religion of the

11 Gay 1966, op. cit.


Gentiles’; 1663) attempted to demonstrate a universal acceptance of these beliefs throughout history. 12 The deist movement in England was the inevitable outcome of the political and religious upheaval inaugurated by the Protestant Reformation’s outspoken and wide- ranging opposition to the authority of the Catholic Church; the Reformation had initiated a slow revolution in which previously unassailable articles of faith were challenged and reconceived. Accessible vernacular translations of the Christian scriptures were substituted for the mediating authority of the clergy; state religion replaced global Catholicism and resisted Papal jurisdiction. However, although these revolutionary innovations provided a clearly viable discursive shift, the very spirit or mental disposition that proposed and then sanctioned them as substitutes in the first place could not logically rest content with them (see Gay 1996:207–212). The full implications of the principle of an individual’s autonomous judgment in matters of religion were not yet wholly apparent nor, indeed, rationally articulated, particularly when applied to the notion of the Bible as the word of God. However, it was simply a matter of time before this novel emphasis on human autonomy in relationship to the divine would have to proceed to a new examination and then a final rejection of the foundational veracity of the Christian faith. Undoubtedly the new discoveries of the sciences (in astronomy and physics by Newton and Boyle, for example), the stringent empiricism championed by Bacon, the philosophical doubt and rationalistic method of Descartes, and the political and social upheavals of the times, all laid the groundwork for the coherent and methodical criticism levelled at revealed religion in the Enlightenment. Nonetheless, these themselves must have been contingent upon the break with the authority of Rome through the assertion of individual autonomy that the Protestant Reformation represented. Although the early tracts of deism were fairly veiled and intentionally indirect in their attack upon divine revelation, alongside the English Revolution and the civil and religious liberties consequent upon it, and with the spread of the critical and empirical spirit exemplified in the philosophy of Locke, for example, the deists

12 Other deists, such as John Tolland in his Christianity not Mysterious (1696) and Matthew Tindal in his Old as the Creation (1731), attempted to show that Christianity, when approached from a deist point of view, was an exemplar of rational religion if stripped of its emphasis on divine revelation and priestly interference. They drew inspiration from the new science of Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle (1627–91) to argue for the existence of God through ‘an appeal to the evidence of his “general providence” displayed in the order of nature, and by more traditional reasoning based on the idea of God as a self-existent or necessary being’ (in Bell 1990:7).


nonetheless prepared the ground for the full rehearsal of the case against Christianity that was undertaken in the later stages of the Enlightenment. 13 Their work was to lead to an explicit hostility towards revealed religion in all its shapes and forms. It was in the Enlightenment that the accusation was most successfully levelled that the Christian scriptural tradition had produced authoritarian and hierarchical social structures that foreclosed the autonomy of the individual now being forcefully articulated by the philosophes. Enlightenment thinkers looked instead to classical Greek and Roman texts as inspirational precursors, 14 most frequently citing Cicero and Lucretius who questioned the existence of any deities and took what would now be called a ‘secular’ view of the human condition. As Gay has argued, therefore, ‘all over Europe and America, for all philosophes alike, the ancients were signposts to secularism’ (1966:44). In keeping with this ‘secularist’ agenda, many writers of the Enlightenment associated religious fervour with irrationality and authoritarianism. Instead they believed, as Hutton notes, that ‘the only sensible alternative to Christianity [was] either atheism or belief in some vaguely defined Supreme Being, with whom humans had no personal relationships’ (1999:21). Pagan religions (that is, those of the ancient Near East and ‘idolatrous’ undercurrents in medieval Christianity) were viewed as erroneous and despotic traditions which were now to be superseded by rational scientific methods. David Hume, for example, in tracing the origins of religion, postulated an evolutionary (and progressive) development from polytheism to monotheism, and, while he lauded the former for its tolerance, he considered it to have been a vulgar and absurd phase of human history that was to be corrected by scientific evidence and reasoning (Gay 1966:167).

(iii) History and Myth: Enlightenment Models of the Past

The Enlightenment thus saw a cumulative antagonism emerge between Christianity and rationalist thought, which in turn provoked new forms of historiography and mythology that were characterised by an attitude towards the past that was alternately pessimistic and admiring. The Enlightenment’s consideration of history was bifurcated and unashamedly partisan and the characterisation of history as an ongoing competition between two types of mentality led the philosophes to propose a novel schema of periodisation. It was one where the past—understood to be global, but in reality a

13 See Gay 1966:371–401.

14 The interest in the texts, philosophies, and culture of what they viewed to be the Classical age led to its categorisation as ‘Neo-classicism’.


particular version of the European past—was divided roughly into four great epochs:

the civilisations of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt; classical Greece and Rome; the Christian millennium; and the contemporary Age of Enlightenment where reason was being reasserted. As Gay suggests, these four epochs were ‘rhythmically related to each other: the first and third were paired off as ages of myth, belief, and superstition, while the second and fourth were ages of rationality, science, and enlightenment’ (1966:34). 15 Enlightenment philosophes considered themselves to be re-enacting the age-old struggle between reason and unreason 16 that, in their view, had been fought and lost in the ancient world. However, it was a struggle they believed they were now destined to win. Those Enlightenment thinkers who concerned themselves with the past in this way were plainly motivated by a contemporary agenda—the final demise of Christian hegemony—and it gave their work political urgency and a sense of unwavering determination, as Gay argues:

the philosophes divided their past into two sectors and put both to work. The Christian sector gave them an adversary worthy of their hostility: when the philosophes proclaimed that it was their mission to eradicate bigotry and superstition, they meant that it was a historic mission. At this point…history became not past, but present politics: the philosophes never tired of pointing to the record Christians had compiled through the ages as evidence confirming the need for drastic remedial action in their own time. In the same manner, the pagan sector [classical Greek and Rome] had its uses: it supplied them with illustrious models and a respectable ancestry.


This division between Christianity and the ‘pagan’ past of classical Greece and Rome was predominantly presented in terms of a struggle between two mentalities (mythological or religious and critically rational or scientific) that were defined by their prevailing political styles, epistemological preoccupations, and intellectual institutions. For the Enlightenment philosophes, the age of Christianity was dominated by superstition, crude barbarism, and resolute ignorance; the Classical age was, in contrast, laudably nourished by reason, truth and humanity (see Gay 1966:59–71).

15 The philosophes did not, however, propose this scheme as a rigid system; they conceded that the Christian millennium was more rational and more civilised than earlier ages, and they certainly believed in the superiority of their own time over Greece and Rome. The exceptions that they allowed, and the caveats that they offered, however, did not invalidate, for them, their broad thesis; they still considered the history of philosophy to be a history of the rise of reason out of myth during the period of classical antiquity, its calamitous regression under Christianity, and its triumphant rediscovery in their own time. See Gay 1966:34–35. 16 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) suggested, for example, characteristically invoking a metaphor of combat, that the ‘pure insight’, which he believed to be characteristic of the Enlightenment, ‘only appears in genuinely active form in so far as it enters into conflict with belief’ (1931:560).


The philosophes’ attitude towards Greek and Latin classicism, as the esteemed ancestor of their own commitment to reason and empirically demonstrable truth, functioned in three ways. Firstly, it suggested a venerable intellectual pedigree that lent an aura of authenticity and authority to their rationalist philosophies. This was largely because knowledge of classical literature was the common possession of educated men in the eighteenth century. Samuel Johnson, for example, remarked that ‘Classical quotation is the parole of literary men all over the world’ (in Boswell 1799, IV:102). Secondly, a strong thread of identification with the ancients was discernible and it served as a useful rhetorical device in establishing the nobility of the philosophes’ cause. Rousseau, for example, considered himself to be

ceaselessly occupied with Rome and Athens; living one might say, with their great men, myself born Citizen of a Republic and son of a father whose patriotism was his strongest passion, I took fire from his example; I thought myself a Greek or a Roman.


However, identification with the ancients was also a signal of the philosophes’ own advancement; they believed that they stood above classical antiquity as its masters,

giving them a sense of the importance of their task as well as a licence to exploit Roman

and Greek sources astutely and, sometimes,

often than they intended, Enlightenment historians looked into the past as into a mirror and extracted from their history the past they could use’ (1966:32). They could exploit their sources because they approached their predecessors with the self-confidence of men who could demonstrate a solid command of their material and who could put it to work with a rigour and rationality that would ensure the success of the Enlightenment project. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Greek and Latin classicism also offered the philosophes a convincing alternative to Christianity, where the Platonic rejection of myth and superstition, and its elaboration by Lucretius and Cicero, were invoked as a beacon of hope.

.17 As Gay suggests, ‘Even more


The four-period scheme dominated philosophical history during the Enlightenment and it was couched in a language that repeatedly drew attention to the regenerative and emancipatory potential of the Enlightenment project. Jean Le Rond d’Alembert (1717–1783), for example, wrote of the ‘revival of letters’—out of a long period of dark ignorance—that the Enlightenment represented, and of the ‘regeneration

17 The identification with one’s forefathers as a legitimating device, and the subsequent assertion of mastery over them, is a key theme in this thesis and is one that will be elaborated and analysed in Chapter 8 when I consider the ontological and epistemological mechanisms that produce and maintain authority and authorship in the politics of identity through recourse to paternal origins.


of ideas,’ the ‘return to reason and good taste’, the ‘revival of spirits’, and the ‘rebirth of

light’ (2000:102–5). Rousseau viewed the medieval age as a step back into the worst excesses of antiquity (1959–1964, III:6) and Hume similarly wrote that ‘having at length

thrown off this yoke, affairs are now returned nearly to the same situation as before, and EUROPE is at present a copy at large, of what GREECE was formerly a pattern in miniature’ (1878, III:183). The rhythmical view of history thus complemented the broader emancipatory agenda of the Enlightenment (Gay 1966:36). In viewing history in the way that they did, the philosophes simultaneously promoted their own role as the heroic champions of a new kind of rationality whose success was inevitable. Here the Enlightenment’s celebrated theory of progress revealed itself most keenly, particularly insofar as it conveniently articulated the belief, common amongst the philosophes, that the past’s oscillation between ‘Ages of Philosophy’ and ‘Ages of Religion’ was not endlessly iterative and that the Enlightenment thus represented a break with the past should its insights be acted upon. Both the four-epoch periodisation as the organising principle of Enlightenment historiography, and the theory of progress, had important implications for historiographical methods and subject matter. Enlightenment historiography, for all its zealous polemicism, was important and groundbreaking in its recognition of what are now commonplace notions amongst historians. Firstly, that historical epochs each have

a dominant intellectual demeanour which informs their knowledge production,

worldview, and behavioural norms; secondly, that history has its discontinuities and dramatic revolutions as well as its more gradual shifts in political and social realities; and finally, after Foucault, that political and religious power functions to define and secure the parameters of the knowable. As a result, Enlightenment philosophes imposed rational, critical methods of study, borrowed from the epistemological models of the natural sciences, on social, political and intellectual developments. Again, the intention was to oppose Christianity, and in particular its model of history and its methods— where Providence and divine revelation were the guiding principles—which were considered to be only concerned with chronologies and genealogies, uncritical, vapid hagiographies of saintly figures, and vulgar and simplistic research into sacred texts (Gay 1966:31–38). Instead, the philosophes set out to provide an alternative, universal, and secular history of human thought and society, guided by the principles of reason and the hope of progress. For example, in his Essay on the Manners and Mind of Nations, and on the Principal Facts of History from Charlemagne to Louis XIII (1769), Voltaire pushed historic


time far back beyond Genesis to primordial geological time, arguing that an immense amount of time was needed for mankind to develop societies, arts, and sciences. He began his history in the Far East (China), rather than with the creation account in the book of Genesis which Christian historians, or at least those influenced by Christian doctrine, had used as their starting point, 18 and he then moved gradually westward to India, Persia, Arabia, to Palestine and the birth of Christianity, and then finally to Rome. He considered the ancient Chinese and Indians to be similar to enlightened European philosophes—liberal, pragmatic, and benevolent, their religious traditions preserving a virtually untouched naturalism. For Voltaire the East served as a much earlier model and source for Judaism and Christianity and, in his view, it was certainly morally superior. However, while his portrayal of the East is seemingly tolerant and unprejudiced, his intention was to denigrate Christianity and its model of history rather than to celebrate non-European cultures; Voltaire wished to rewrite the past so that the Bible was seen to have played only a minor role (Figueira 2002:11). The Enlightenment production of this new type of history, and the promotion of secularism, unsurprisingly influenced attitudes towards myth, where Plato’s conflict with poets and mythmakers was once thought to be being re-enacted. Broadly speaking, three types of mythology were prevalent: Christian, deist, and rationalist, the last of which was championed by the philosophes. For eighteenth-century Christian thinkers, such as the Abbé Fourmont (1683–1745), Samuel Shuckford (d. 1754), and Bishop William Warburton (1698–1779), the term ‘myth’ signified pagan fables and religion, particularly those of classical Greece and Rome and Egypt, which were either dismissed entirely or reconciled with Christian doctrine. As Feldman and Richardson note, ‘myth’ was considered to be ‘exactly equal to false, while gospel, meaning Christian religious stories, was exactly equal to true’ (1972:3). The most common understanding of myth in this view, therefore, was that it was a degenerate version of biblical truth; myth was interpreted as an invention of the devil, and the pagan gods were identified with fallen angels.

18 Voltaire intended his history to complete and correct the work of the historian Bishop Jacques- Benigne Bossuet (1627–1704). Bossuet’s Discourse on Universal History (1681) presented the historical past as both preparing for and culminating in Israel and Christianity, marked by God’s providence. He began his history with Adam before moving on to the Flood, God’s covenant with Abraham, then to Moses, Troy’s downfall and capture, the establishment of the Temple in Jerusalem, the birth of Christ, and finally to Christianity’s alliance with Rome. Voltaire brings this history up-to-date but he also makes clear that he rejects Bossuet’s Christian-universal history in favour of a new secular ‘philosophy’ of history, where providence is replaced by progress, and where a Hebraic origin is replaced by one situated in the Far East.


The deists, among them John Toland (1670–1722) and John Trenchard (1662– 1723), tended to the view that Christian religious practices and beliefs as well as pagan myth and custom were equally ill-considered adulterations, not of Christianity but of the original natural religion. Toland suggested, for example, that the polytheism found in so many myth traditions was a deliberate fabrication by priests who were cynically concerned to secure their own status as ritual specialists and mediators between the gods of their invention and the common people. Similarly, John Trenchard, in his The Natural History of Superstition (1709), offered an analysis of mythmaking as a form of psychopathology akin to fanatical religiosity. He suggested that the religious impulse tended to evolve from simple faith (in the earliest stages of natural religion) to unchecked fervour, and finally to an intolerant fanaticism that encouraged excessive proselytisation and the persecution of non-believers. Where Toland had examined myth as a form of primitive savagery in the past, Trenchard was clearly concerned to challenge contemporary forms of religiosity, in particular witchcraft and the spread of fanaticism in the eighteenth-century church. Myth, for Trenchard, echoing Plato, suggested a mentality predisposed towards zealotry because it inspired and stimulated emotional responses that were wholly unaffected by the application of reason. Rationalist philosophes, such as Bernard Fontenelle (1657–1757) and Hume, tended to the most extreme view, in that they viewed all myths as savage and absurd, only useful for providing evidence of primitive mankind’s irrational and deluded attempt to explain the natural world. Fontenelle’s influential essay Of the Origin of Fables (1724) 19 maintained that myths were both the product of primitive psychology, that is, they were credulous attempts, arising out of fear or awe in the face of nature, to provide explanations of natural phenomena, and, in their more far-fetched forms, the result of an accumulation of exaggerations by generations of mythmakers. He sought universal explanations for the origin and transmission of myths, based on his assumption of a universal human nature, and thus situated the origin of myths in mental processes that he considered were ubiquitous across time and space. Hume firmly and caustically rejected myth as patent superstition and historical distortion, as did Voltaire on occasion (Gay 1966:341–342).

19 Both Andrew Lang (1844–1912) and Lucien Levy-Bruhl (1857–1939) considered Fontenelle’s work on fables to be groundbreaking. In his Myth, Ritual, and Religion (1887), for example, Lang included an appendix called ‘Fontenelle’s Forgotten Common Sense’. See Feldman and Richardson 1972:7–8.


In summary, then, Enlightenment attitudes towards myth were, in the main, disparaging. Somewhat unwittingly, but importantly nonetheless, each view was implicated in the politico-philosophical projects of its proponents, insofar as the characterisation of some narratives as ‘myths’ (with the implicit charge of falsity) involved a move to assert the primacy of the proponents’ own truth—discursive authority—against those traditions and systems they considered erroneous. Of the three types of attitude towards myth, the deist and rationalist views had the most enduring influence on the development of the field of mythology: deist attitudes informed and guided the romantic view of myth while the rationalist view provided the intellectual foundation for the nineteenth-century mythology of scholars like Edward Tylor (1832– 1917), Andrew Lang (1844–1912), and Sir James Frazer (1854–1941). The Enlightenment, for all its distrust of myth and mythmaking, thus saw a resurgence of interest in the study of myth, partially due to the availability of new data on the traditions and beliefs of non-European people, provided by missionaries, travellers, and merchants, as European societies embarked on a programme of rapid colonial expansion.

(iv) Orienting Knowledges: Spatial Politics, Temporal Contexts

The idea of progress and civilisation, the promotion of the rhythmic model of history, and the rejection of myth as evidence of the superstition and erroneous thinking that was the domain of the ignorant and primitive, neatly provided the ideological justification—the condition of possibility—for imperialist ambitions (or what became designated as the ‘civilising mission’). It was an idea which gathered pace in the following centuries until it obscured almost entirely the economic motives that provoked European colonial expansion. It enabled the elaboration of a discourse which privileged an élitist European subjectivity and produced a new formulation (with spatial and temporal significance) 20 of abject Otherness, seen to be embodied both by the

20 Thomas Docherty points to the spatial and temporal opposition between the European centre and the colonised periphery that was established in Enlightenment thought and argues that it enabled the power relations of colonialism: ‘When the north-western tip of Europe designated itself as the centre of “Enlightenment” in the eighteenth century, it did so in the secure knowledge that an “unenlightened periphery” was thereby constructed; and the imperialist expansion that went hand in hand with the development of Enlightenment philosophy was not just a mercantile affair, for it also had a series of conceptual components. To be “enlightened”, by definition, is implicitly to construct the idea of oneself as a Subject-in-time; one has a present, characterised by light, which is distinguished from something dark which is necessarily prior to the moment of enlightenment. A specific model of historical narrative is thereby put in place’ (1993:445). He further argues that ‘[t]he politics of imperialism and colonialism [are]…founded not just upon geography but also upon a series of temporal factors, and most significantly upon a question of


colonised peoples—evinced by the relative ease with which they were colonised—and by those Europeans who were considered to be mired in the superstitions promulgated by the Christian Church. This was thus a dualistic framework which mirrored and confirmed the Cartesian view of humanity as separate from, and transcendent to, the natural world. The impact of such a bifurcated presentation of subjectivity, as Edward Said (1978) so famously argued, produced a self-sustaining narrative of Otherness upon which a colonial knowledge/power nexus was established in the eighteenth century, and then more finely tuned during the nineteenth century. The image of the ‘savage’ native as primitive other, opposed to the ‘civilised’ European, was a significant part of a complex system of narrative representations—of mythmaking—that was, as Russell McCutcheon argues, ‘taken as normative and authoritative by a community of readers and writers’ (1997:188). It also provided a material referent for European knowledge production, one that literally ‘authorised’ (made into authors) the colonisers who were cast as knowing subjects, while the colonised, as well as those within European societies who remained, in the view of the philosophes, stubbornly ignorant of the insights of rational philosophy, or who continued to be beguiled by superstition, religion, or myth, were rendered as the objects of knowledge in a way that ignored or repressed their own agentive identity. The knowledge production and epistemological models of Enlightenment philosophes and nineteenth-century European colonisers thus imposed a discursive and rhetorical homogeneity that, while it bore a passing resemblance to particular indigenous accounts (for example, those of a small native élite who were often complicit in colonial administrative and educational projects), marginalised and denounced altogether subaltern narratives. Knowledge of the savage native was effectively repackaged and re-presented, through a complex educational, legal, and political network, as knowledge for the native that would enable the progress of all humanity towards the European model of civilisation. Enlightenment knowledge production placed manifold local narratives (simultaneously inscribing them as inferior) in the singular context of ‘World History’ that served, in retrospect, both to confirm and to narrate the Enlightenment version of history as one of newly inevitable and irresistible progress. 21 Temporality in this mode was reconfigured as naturally sequential and inexorable, a movement—albeit initially

oscillating—from a primitive origin in antiquity to the civilised and civilising present. As such, it was a selectively optimistic view of human history which was now seen as a move towards a condition of inevitable perfectibility. A logical corollary of this rationalist conception of history was the tendency of Enlightenment thinkers to demean or deride those cultures and peoples, past and present, which lacked consciousness of the principles of enlightened reason and who persisted in slavish adherence to superstition, myth, and religion. Such cultures tended to be seen as lower stages in the development of cosmopolitan rationality. Hence, in the view of Condorcet, it was the good fortune of the ‘barbarous, unenlightened cultures’ of his day that they could now acquire the rational principles of Enlightenment directly from the enlightened culture of European society (1955:178). The past and present of colonised people, and of the lower classes, provided both an evidential and an ontological platform—or origin—from which to make manifest the progression of European intellectual development from a state of primitivity to one of refined and rationalist superiority. Further, it fuelled an enthusiasm for the frenzied knowledge-gathering, the complex production of taxonomies and philologies, that became so characteristic of European Orientalist scholarship in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the extent that indigenous knowledge was also effectively colonised in the service of the European narrative of progress. However, there was a parallel strand of thought—romanticism—that emerged in the eighteenth century and which took a nostalgic attitude to the past, sentimentalising it in terms of a lost paradise that could only be salvaged through careful attention to the very peripheral narratives that were, with alarming speed, being closed down. I want to turn, therefore, to examine the retrieval of the past in the context of the romantic movement in order to provide the historical background to the transfiguration of the past into a myth of origins that occurred within German romantic nationalism, a process explored in detail throughout the remainder of the thesis.


II. Romancing the Origin in the Politics of Nostalgia 22

In this section I present a broad overview of the romantic movement in terms of a complex network of cultural undercurrents and aesthetic articulations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which were distinct from the parallel strand of scientific and modern industrialisation that produced rationalism. Broadly speaking, romanticism was an intellectual movement that flourished in Europe between the middle of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with its ideological roots found in the work of the pre-romantic thinkers Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803). It is generally agreed that the romantic movement arose as an antithesis to the ideals of the Enlightenment in that it posed a conscious challenge to the aesthetic and philosophical priorities of the Age of Reason. To some extent, romanticism was a counterpoint rearticulation of Enlightenment values, in radically different language and to different ends, particularly as far as it valorised, through narrative forms, the identity formulations peculiar to the Enlightenment, and, even more crucially, with respect to the dependence of these formulations on mythical sites of origin. It is perhaps clearer, therefore, if both romanticism and rationalism are seen as the Janus-faced expressions of the Enlightenment epistemological and ontological paradigm. Romanticism can be understood as an introverted and nostalgic gaze towards the past in search of authentic selfhood, and rationalism as an extroverted affirmation of universal individualism, looking towards the future of progress and derogating the past which served merely as a point of departure. While both conceived of subjectivity in dramatically divergent ways, they were, nonetheless, concerned with the location of origins for the legitimation of their theories of identity, whether cosmopolitan,

22 The phrase ‘politics of nostalgia’ was coined by Armin W. Geertz and Jeppe Sinding Jensen to critique Mircea Eliade’s tendency (along with other historians of religion) to isolate and celebrate an unchanging and unique core to all religious forms, that is, religion as sui generis. For Geertz and Jensen, the phrase ‘politics of nostalgia’ refers to a deliberate and sentimental turn to the past ‘which seeks, on the basis of a universalist interpretation of religions, to restore Man as a complete and inherently spiritual being’ (1991:13). That this is a fundamentally political act is explored more fully in Chapters 5 and 6. In the context of the discussion of romanticism presented here, I am using the term ‘politics of nostalgia’ to refer to the way in which the romantic derogation of the present to the redemptive qualities of the archaic past took place against a backdrop of immense social upheaval and the breakdown of traditional hierarchies and in so doing reflected a politically-informed concern to restore social order by returning to the ‘old ways’. Romanticism thus ascribed a value and authority to its conceptions of the past in which, for example, the more inequitable qualities of social hierarchy and power were downplayed, in order to shape and judge the present. As Russell McCutcheon has noted, ‘The politics of nostalgia…denotes an ideological position in which, for example, things purportedly archaic are unilaterally prevalued as essential and beneficial, becoming the norm against which other social arrangements and forms or human behaviour are judged and found wanting (1997:33–34).


universalist, progressive and individualist (in the case of rationalism) or national, heterogeneous (in terms of differences between nations), retrogressive, and communitarian (in the case of romanticism). However, although both affirmed the autonomy of the individual, where Enlightenment thinkers assumed the essential unity human consciousness, romantic thinkers generally promoted the uniqueness of each individual as it was constituted by life experience, an important dimension of which was thought frequently to be national character, and proposed a more synthetic notion of unity, that of the individual with the community, the community with the nation, and the nation with other nations. For romantic thinkers, it was not reason but rather inner feelings, imagination, and the unbounded spirit that could intuit the truth of the human condition. Emotional and aesthetic expression was understood to be the primal motivation of human beings and was therefore not to be repressed by reason. Subjectivity was understood to reside in, and to be defined with reference to, an individual’s place within a community of origin. Whereas in the rationalist paradigm the subject was conceived of as relentlessly atomistic, the romantic recovery of vernacular traditions promoted relational identity. This should not be mistaken, however, as a benign view of communitarian identity: the value assigned to indigenous communities relied on the identification and exclusion of others who were defined in terms of their foreignness and seen to pose a threat to the unity and purity of the affinal group. The past few decades have seen a great deal of debate concerning definitions of romanticism, with very little consensus having been achieved regarding its core philosophies, periodisation, or even geographical location. It is not my concern here to revisit in any detail the main arguments in the debate, largely because they are primarily relevant to studies of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English literature and not to the broader ideological movement that is the focus of discussion in this chapter. 23 Rather, of more immediate interest for my purpose is the romantic movement’s

23 See Ferguson 1991 and McGann 1992. The debate has focused on René Wellek’s suggestion (1949; 1963) that romanticism was a cohesive philosophical and aesthetic phenomenon. Jerome McGann (1983; 1992:735–739), following Arthur Lovejoy (1916; 1917; 1941), argues instead that romanticism was much more fragmented. He suggests that the term ‘Romantic Period’ (1992:740) be used to describe late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century writings, making ‘romanticism’ an historical—rather than aesthetic or philosophical—category (since many romantic-era authors did not subscribe to the romantic ideals as defined by Wellek). It is possible, in my view, however, to identify a number of common philosophical and aesthetic preoccupations under the broad rubric of romanticism as a movement, particularly as these are distinct from, and sometimes antithetical to, the contemporaneous discourse of rationalism. This is especially the case in the context of German romanticism which will be discussed more fully in Chapters 4–6.


idealisation of the past and nature (in particular, the rural landscape), its fascination with pagan religiosity (understood here as pre-Christian as well as non-European, and resolutely antipathetical towards the mythologies of Greek and Rome), and its search for vernacular forms of sociality (myths, customs, and languages) that could provide a cohesive foundation for social and national unity. 24 These core features should be viewed, I will argue below, in terms of an implicit, although occasionally explicit, agenda concerned with the redemptive power of origins and the past for retrieving authentic expressions of national and individual identity. My intention here is to survey these features of romanticism, particularly as they relate directly to the discussion of myth, race, and German nationalism in the following chapters. In the sections below, I will deal with two preoccupations of romantic thought, namely, the idealisation of the rural landscape and the rediscovery of vernacular traditions. 25

(i) The Rural Idyll

The idealisation of the rural landscape (and its inhabitants) was prompted in large part by hostility to the mass industrialisation of Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and provided a stark contrast to the progressive vision of civilisation that had led to technological advancements in the areas of manufacturing, communication, and transport. In England according to Hutton, ‘the shift of emotion involved can be attributed to a single and simple process; that in 1810 about 80 percent of English people lived in the countryside, and by 1910 about 80 percent lived in towns’ (Hutton 1999:117). Similarly, Boa and Palfreyman draw attention to a slightly later development in Germany when they note that in the period from 1840 to 1900 the population moved from being primarily rural to predominantly urban (2000:1). Suddenly the urban centres that had earlier promised progress and emancipation had turned into chaotic, alienating conglomerations, spreading pollution, disease, and social instability. In contrast to cities, the shrinking and depopulated countryside was depicted as an idyll of continuity and social unity, where age-old feudalism was seen to be undisturbed by Enlightenment calls for liberty.

24 Hutton differs in that he singles out the fusion of three significant forces as productive of romanticism: in the context of the British movement ‘admiration for ancient Greece, nostalgia for a vanished past, and desire for an organic unity between people, culture, and nature’ (1999:21). German romanticism, in contrast, took a much more ambivalent attitude towards ancient Greece as I will show. 25 For further discussion of pagan religiosity during the period, see Hutton’s fine survey (1999, especially pp. 32–51) which examines the growth of British paganism from the late seventeenth century onwards.


Jackson Lears describes, for example, a ‘feeling of over-civilization’ which, in the nineteenth century, expanded into ‘a sign of a broad…dissatisfaction with modern culture’. He notes that, ‘haltingly, half-consciously, Europeans and Americans alike began to recognize that the triumph of modern culture had not produced greater autonomy,’ but on the contrary had highlighted ‘a spreading sense of moral impotence and spiritual sterility—a feeling that life had become not only overcivilized but also curiously unreal’ (1981:4–5). The psychological impact of this rapid shift cannot be overestimated and is evident in the increasing nostalgia for, and sentimentalisation of, the rustic behaviours and practices of the peasantry, viewed through much of the scholarship, literature, art and music of the romantic period. Benedict Anderson (1991), understands this constructive nostalgia for a vanishing past to be a response to ‘characteristic amnesias’ brought about by ‘profound changes in consciousness’:

‘Awareness of being imbedded in secular, serial time, with all its implications of continuity, yet of “forgetting” the experience of this continuity…engenders the need for a narrative of “identity”’ (1991:204–205). Scholars and aesthetes, emulating the aristocratic landowners of the seventeenth century, tended to view the countryside as a timeless place in which archaic practices were continued with a childlike, but nonetheless dogged, sense of tradition. It was credited with all the advantages of simplicity and homeliness which were lacking in the modern towns and cities, considered not only more beautiful and wholesome, but also more stable, rooted, and enduring. Its inhabitants were endowed with an unassuming bucolic wisdom, attributed to their close contact with nature and an arcane knowledge of the land that had been preserved and handed down through countless generations. Their organic, timeless way of life was viewed both as a reassuring bulwark against the rapid and unsettling changes of the period, and as a potential ground from which indigenous cultures and values could be resuscitated to challenge those universalising forces of cosmopolitanism which threatened their destruction. This romanticisation of the countryside was remarkable as ‘hitherto rustics had usually been portrayed by leaders of literary taste as the principal reservoir of ignorance, blind superstition, brutal manners, and political reaction, within which towns formed islands of liberalism, education, progress, and refinement’ (Hutton 1999:117). The romantic espousal of the common ‘folk’ was thus intended in part as a challenge against the ambivalent but nonetheless mainly critical attitude of the philosophes. As Robert Payne suggests, ‘a measure of fear for the future of Enlightenment


in the face of both the abysmal ignorance seen lurking in the lower orders and the violent passions which those masses came to represent in the social order’ informed the philosophes attitudes to the peasantry (1976:26). Although they sought to improve the miserable conditions in which the people lived, their condemnation of the superstitious nature of popular culture and traditions was a combination of an implicit alignment with aristocratic standards of gentility and the preoccupations of a bourgeois, utilitarian concern for increasing productivity and the self-discipline that it required (1976:117–


The rapid migration of the rural population to metropolitan centres had originally started in the seventeenth century. This was the result, at least in Britain, of official enclosure policies that took land out of active agricultural production and turned it into parklands and new woods, a novel use of the rural landscape that was prompted by the new gentry’s penchant for establishing country seats and rural retreats. As Abrahams points out, ‘there are manifest ironies involved in this process of sentimentalizing a way of life only after those who once practised it have been taken from the land’ (1993:4). 26 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, countryside landholdings remained a powerful signal of wealth and status for the new capitalists, and some of the behaviours and practices of the peasants were still viewed as the authentic and unsullied voice of the people. Now, however, the peasants were renamed ‘folk’ and given a different place in the symbolic economy by which society was constituted and conceived. 27 Under the aristocratic ancien régime, peasants had been idealised as gentle—if superstitious and simple—and their customs, tales, and songs were understood to embody ‘native wisdom’. However, following, for example, the French Revolution of 1789, they were now regarded as embodiments of popular sentiment and practice, purveyors of common sense, even carriers of local and national character, and most importantly, as symbols of the natural liberty of humankind. As long as those who represented the rising commercial sector of urban life could continue to imagine returning to the country and adopting country ways, they could ignore the negative features of social stratification and enclosure, and of industrialisation and imperialism. Related to this shift in perception was the fact that scientific discoveries during the Enlightenment (and the Industrial Revolution which followed throughout

26 See also Lunn 1986:483.

27 This redesignation was related, as Abrahams notes, to the attempt by bourgeois antiquarians to improve their status as men of letters. The field of ‘folkloristics’ was inaugurated as a result



Europe), had also led to the emergence of new social classes, particularly that of an urbanised bourgeoisie and working class. It appears most likely, therefore, that a class struggle was involved, especially when the attitudes to the countryside during the previous century are compared to those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Under conditions that called for revitalisation, the countryside was available to provide

a perspective from which to recognise and expunge the contaminations of over-

civilisation. Furthermore, the romantics who advocated this view, in seeking out and nurturing the indigenous folk traditions of the countryside, actively formulated a

challenge to the rationalist perspective of modernisation by opposing nature to culture, instincts to logic, and the archaic to the novel. The rural idealism of the romantic era was allied to the reconceptualisation of the past as a site of authentic origin (Abrahams 1993:19), at once more organic, more local, and more legitimating of nationalist, regional, and aesthetic agendas than the cosmopolitan view of the past. In this view the origin was a non-transcendable point, and thus seriously at odds with the Enlightenment view of the past. The past so conceived, particularly in Germany, was a very particular vision, one which was indebted both to a form of reconceived feudal medievalism and to an assumed autochthony, presumed to have enabled a profound connection of people with the land.

It carried undertones of a past characterised by nobility, chivalry and a presumed

‘natural’ hierarchy that ensured social harmony. 28 Envisioning the past in this way thus usefully coincided with the articulation of nationalist discourses, grounded, as they now could be, in claims regarding the primordial rootedness of the folk in the land which they inhabited. This nostalgic imagination of the past was almost entirely fictional—what Hobsbawm and Ranger call the ‘invention of tradition’ (1983) 29 —and resonant initially

only for the emergent educated bourgeoisie which was then urgently seeking an alternative model of history that could reply to the evident failure of the emancipatory doctrines of the Enlightenment. The solution to the social instability created by the political and cultural revolutions of the eighteenth century was seen to lie in the creation

of a national cultural identity based on the revival of ancient vernacular traditions and

28 See the quotation from Novalis’ Die Christenheit oder Europa (‘Christendom or Europe, 1799, first published in 1826) in Tully 1997:10, fn. 19 which stands as a clear example of this idealisation of medieval feudal society.

29 Hobsbawm, in particular, argues that the ‘invention of traditions’ signals the decline or absence of those very traditions: ‘Where the old ways are alive, traditions need be neither revived nor invented’ (1983:8).


practices, and the hierarchical social structures of feudalism. The emphasis on tradition, custom, and community evolved into a specific set of values that were productive of the socio-political theories of ethnic organicism which I will examine in the context of Völkisch idealism in more detail in Chapter 5. In the next section I will look more closely at some of the reasons for the revival of vernacular forms as found more broadly within the romantic paradigm.

(ii) The Rediscovery of Vernacular Traditions: Redeeming the Present

Confronted by the cosmopolitan assimilation of distinct ethnic entities by dominant cultures, (for example, in the context of the military aggression of Napoleonic France), the articulation and preservation of unique and authentic national identities required an urgent effort to define what was original and distinctive in a given culture’s history, practices, and cultural forms. As Anthony D. Smith rightly notes, the imagination of the past as a kind of ‘golden age’ became a standard ‘against which to measure the alleged failings of the present generation and contemporary community’ (1996:450). Philologists, historians, and folklorists began to search the documentary and material records of indigenous peasant communities in order to reconstruct a picture of native life in earlier times, from which the present-day community could derive a sense of continuity and, most importantly, dignity. In doing so they drew up the boundaries of a community on the basis of shared codes, often a vernacular language, or body of stories, to produce a strong sense of cultural identity and difference. Orvar Löfgren, describing the construction of national identities, outlines an inventory of the common building blocks of nationhood, particularly as they were formulated in the late eighteenth century:

The experiences and strategies of creating national languages, heritages and symbolic estates, etc., are circulated among intellectual activists in different corners of the world and the eventual result is a kind of check-list: every nation should have not only a common language, a common past and destiny, but also a national folk culture, a national character or mentality, national values, perhaps even some national tastes and a national landscape…a gallery of national myths and heroes (and villains), a set of symbols, including flag and anthem, sacred texts and images, etc.


Such inventorisation served to define the differences between nations in terms of their variegated indigenous cultural productions, but, paradoxically, their legitimacy relied on fulfilment of homogenous criteria. I will return in Chapter 4 to examine the scholarly literature on nationalism; here it should be noted that Löfgren is advocating a model of ‘cultural nationalism’, very different from the view that sees nations as ‘civic’ formations


where the political state grants membership in the nation through the extension of rights and duties to its citizens. The preoccupation, in the romantic paradigm, with indigenous traditions, myths, and cultural forms was thus a product of the view that language and literature were key resources for the (re)construction of distinct and authentic national identities. Ancient literature, folklore, myths, and customs were looked to as the basis for cultural unity in the present and for the realisation of political unity in the future. New traditions were thus effectively invented by intellectuals and scholars, who, by consolidating and developing those already extant traditions which emphasised community, morality, and hierarchy, presented a chiliastic view of the past that was positive and unifying but essentially imaginative. Their aims during the romantic period, particularly those of folklorists and antiquarians, 30 are well summarised by Hobsbawm’s three categories of ‘systems of social management’ wherein traditions are invented in order to ‘establish continuity with a suitable historic past’ (1983:1–14):

(a) those establishing or symbolizing social cohesion or the membership of groups, real or artificial communities, (b) those establishing or legitimizing institutions, status or relations of authority, and (c) those whose main purpose was socialization, the inculcation of beliefs, values systems and conventions of behaviour.


Myths in particular, in this context, offered a repertoire of imaginative vocabularies that contained all the necessary ingredients for illuminating authentic national character, offering both examples of heroic behaviour and concrete visions of an edifying and more glorious past that were retrieved and retold with the didactic purpose of promoting national cohesion. 31 Many of the nationalist mythologies that developed in Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries related modern nations or people to ancient tribal origins, whether Celtic, Teutonic, Nordic, Gallic, or Gothic, for example. As Lincoln points out, it was in this period that myths were identified with ‘specific, ethnically, linguistically defined populations’ and that it thence became common ‘to speak of “Greek myths,” “Norse myths,” “Navajo myths,” and the like’, an ‘orientation

30 See Hustvedt 1930:13. 31 Ironically, the romantic writers and collectors of folklore tended to adapt and rework the material they gathered amongst the ‘folk’ for the edification of their educated, urban middle-class audiences, and for the satisfaction of their ‘desire to feel more natural and instinctive’ (Lunn 1986:484) as I will discuss in Chapter 5. Nonetheless, the new romantic populism, in a way similar to the rationalist emancipatory agenda, represented a potential counterweight, within the European intellectual élite, to courtly definitions of culture, and had, beyond that, democratic implications.


[that] takes for granted that nations [and] “cultures”…are primordial, bounded, unproblematic entities and that myth is the equally primordial voice, essence and heritage of the group’ (1999:210). It was the Swiss scholar Paul Henri Mallet (1730–1807), a professor of Belles- Lettres in Copenhagen, who initiated this new interest in vernacular myths and who helped to counter the widespread interest in Latin and Greek classical myth. In 1755 he published his Introductions à l’histoire du Dannemarc où l’on traite de la religion, des loix des moeurs et des usages des anciens Danois, 32 followed in the following year by his Monumens de la mythologie et de la poésie des Celtes, et particulièrement des anciens Scandinaves. 33 It was this second book that brought the Nordic mythology of the Eddas to wider European attention. Mallet’s work, later expanded and re-edited (1809 and 1847), described Norse mythology and cosmogony, and offered a critical commentary on its origins and significance (Feldman and Richardson 1972:199–201). Mallet considered this ‘northern’ mythology to be central in the development of modern Europe because, in his view, the arrival in Europe of the northernmost peoples had been a determining factor in the historical formation of its cultures and societies. As Robert Richardson notes, for Mallet, ‘to know modern Europe…one needed to study, not the Greeks and Romans, but the Northmen, who were the source of European liberty and much else besides’ (in Feldman and Richardson 1972:200). Nonetheless, Mallet was fairly disparaging of Nordic traditions, suggesting that while the early Nordic religion had been in many ways similar to a prototypical form of Christianity or the deist vision of natural religion—pure, dignified, imaginative, and humane—and had celebrated the brave nobility of warriors and honour amongst men and treated women with respect, by the time of the writing of the Eddas it had been corrupted by an aggressive and macabre form of religiosity, most evident in the militant barbarism of Odin and the wolf Fenrir and in the frequent and bloody apocalyptic reveries of the myths’ narrators. This later religion had created a violent mythology that in turn could produce only more barbarism. However, as Feldman and Richardson suggest, ‘for all his disapproval of Nordic myth, Mallet took great care to present the stories themselves completely and colourfully; it was to prove easy for Mallet’s readers to pick up the myths and disregard Mallet’s own glum estimate of their potential’ (ibid.).

32 ‘Introduction to the History of Denmark or On the Character of the Religion, [the] Laws, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Danes’. 33 ‘Monuments of the Mythology and the Poetry of the Celts, and in particular the ancient Scandinavians’.


Mallet’s influence was immediate and widespread as historians, theologians, philosophers, mythographers and poets became acquainted with his work. It was translated into Danish, German, and English in 1770 (as Northern Antiquities by Bishop Thomas Percy [1729–1811]). In Germany it was enthusiastically received by Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788), Herder (who interpreted the Nordic myths—and in fact all myths—as popular peoples’ poetry as I will show in the following chapter), and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), to name only a few. In England, Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) frequently cited Mallet in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published posthumously in 1796) and Bishop Percy’s Five Pieces of Runic Poetry (1763) borrowed three of its five texts from Mallet. In France, Voltaire read Mallet, and a good deal of the new Nordic material was to be found in the later volumes of the Encyclopédie (c. 1772) (Feldman and Richardson 1972:200). It was common in the late eighteenth century to consider the Celtic, Gallic, Germanic, and Scandinavian peoples as sharing a common ancestry (the word Celt was used to refer to all of the Northern ethnic groups), and it is unsurprising that Germans, French, English, and Scandinavians were all interested in Mallets’ material and had little difficulty in incorporating it into their individual nationalist programs. The principal consequence of Mallet’s work was the idea that Northern Europe had its own vernacular mythological tradition and therefore need no longer turn to Rome or Greece as its inspirational precursors. After the publication of Mallet’s work, mythology was considered a serious and legitimate area of scholarly interest, and to have a great deal of utility for what were then embryonic nationalist movements (as I will show when I examine Jakob Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie in Chapter 6). The Norse myths, in spite of Mallet’s scorn, clearly nourished the popular imagination in that the tales could now be considered to be an authentic part of the people’s own local and national history and this was, as Feldman and Richardson suggests, primarily because of a newly discovered sense of ancient indigeneity (1972:199–201). The heroic histories, poetic legacies, and elevated mores of these Northern European ancestor peoples were enlisted not just in validation of modern claims to national status but also in debates over what the modern nation should be like. Such myths of origin provided the foundations for later nationalist historiographies, suggesting inspirational narratives that hinged on the conquest and dispossession, survival and, most importantly, revival of the original native people. These myths also promoted the basic notion of a historically transmitted common identity that


historiographies could refashion, whether or not they clung to a predominantly racial/ethnic understanding of national identity. Nineteenth-century nationalist scholarship thus located the essential strength of modern national cultures in the survivals of an aboriginal inheritance, whether linguistic and cultural (as in Germany, for example) or legal and constitutional (in England). Ancient cultural traditions were thus revalorised as a way of confronting and discarding what were seen as the intervening forms that had emerged as a result of either Christendom or the Enlightenment. As Abrahams recognises,

This move to purify [was] complemented and complicated by the need to construct a figure who embodies the past in all its glory, a representative figure somehow left behind on the landscape in spite of more recent historical forces. Such a figure epitomizes the sad feelings that arise from the notion of lost lands and lost inheritances intrinsic to acts of displacement.


Within the romantic paradigm in Germany, these ‘representative figures’ were both the primordial Volk (‘people’) and the hero Arminius (whose story I will tell in the following chapter). Viewed as naturally more cognisant of indigenous articulations of identity, these figures were the heroic agents of vernacular traditions, which, if tapped into, could provide a means of resistance to the ‘intervening forms’. They also became the bearers of national renaissance and served, to ‘generate moods of prophetic expectancy with a powerful bearing on contemporary politics’ (Cubitt1998:9); that is, moods which endowed nation-building imperatives with a framework in which to imagine the future destiny of the unified nation. 34 It is here, then, that I move to examine the relationship between myth, nation, and identity, to tie context to content. In the following chapters I will analyse, within the context of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Germany, the specific inscription of myths and mythmaking in a politics of identity that were built upon the legitimating function of a vernacular origin. I will be particularly concerned with the possibilities that such an origin created for the articulation of German identity as a myth in the form of a discourse of differentiation. However, before moving on to discuss the antecedents of this discourse, let me summarise what I have so far presented regarding the two dominant understandings of

34 There is also a class dimension to the articulation of the heroic folk as custodians of national authenticity, and it is here that some correlation with the egalitarian ideals of the Enlightenment can be discerned. In many ways the idea of an unsullied plebeian authenticity is a product of the intellectual élite; nonetheless, as Bruce King has argued, ‘Nationalism is an urban movement which identifies with the rural areas…. Nationalism aims at…rejection of cosmopolitan upper classes, intellectuals and others likely to be influenced by foreign ideas’ (1980:42). The élites, in singling out the rural masses as having a salvific role, placed themselves, unwittingly, in a precarious position.


myth that emerged during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and which were consolidated in the nineteenth—in particular, regarding the interdependence of theories of myth and theories of individuality and identity. As I have shown, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the revival of intense and escalating interest in myth. This revival oscillated between two main attitudes, both of which were characterised by their concern with the function of origins as platforms from which to establish and legitimate divergent ontological positions. On the one hand, Enlightenment rationalism understood myths primarily as a product of erroneous worldviews or as corruptions of divinely ordained natural religion through clerical interference. This attitude both coincided with and was productive of philosophical speculations regarding the atomistic, rational individual as the arbiter of the ‘truth’, and colonial expansionist schemes that imposed a distinction between a superior European rationalism and the primitive, irrational worldviews of colonised people. Myths, if they were to be given any credence at all, were viewed as intentionally invented by the individual as an imaginative act, a point of view similar to that of Plato. Furthermore, this attitude inscribed a view of the past that made clear its own distance and progress. Myths were the residual evidence of a primitive past that had to be discarded. As such, they enabled the assertion of an origin that served as a point of departure for the progressive schemes of rational emancipation and scientific advancement. It is this viewpoint that characterises popular understandings of myth today, and the history of this viewpoint has tended to dominate mythologists’ self-understandings of their scholarship, as discussed in the Introduction. In contrast, the romantic paradigm granted myth a privileged status wherein a connection between nature and the subjective individual was believed to be visibly and actively preserved and therefore retrievable. In the context of increasing mass industrialisation and the material loss of large swathes of the countryside, such a recuperative project was deemed by many to be, at the very least, desirable. Against the Enlightenment paradigm, which saws myths as a point of departure, the romantics saw them as a point of return. The authentic, noble, and natural virtues communicated in myths, and believed to have been preserved particularly amongst the folk, appeared to offer the emerging European middle classes compellingly wholesome examples of an alternative way of life and a means, therefore, of resisting the destructive effects of modern civilisation. In the romantic view then, the mythical past was viewed nostalgically as an improvement on the present, and functioned as a template for an


idealised vision of the future. Within romanticism myths were a product, not of individual imaginations, but of the collective efforts of closely-knit communities to articulate a sense of themselves as a group, and to preserve their ancient and noble traditions. As such, the romantic approach to myth differed from that of rationalism by stressing myths’ unconscious, subjective qualities. A further important difference was asserted by viewing the production of myth as an organic process rather than as deliberately contrived or fabricated. Such an attitude lent itself well to emergent nationalist discourses where collections of myths were matched to distinct peoples, providing an accessible index of their internal and external characteristics. In this way, myths were the carriers of the truth of native character and history and an internal embodiment of a kind of national summum bonum:

uncontrived, original, natural, and authentic. Myths might not be ‘true’ in their details but they were certainly to be taken seriously as vehicles and guardians of national characteristics and history. Such an understanding of the symbiotic relationship between myth and the native collective provided a counterpoint to the Enlightenment articulation of individual identity as atomistic. Anticipating Nietzsche’s aphorism that ‘The Thou is older than the I’ (Das Du ist älter als das Ich) (1993:84) in the romantic worldview, the human individual was placed in a complementary and interdependent relationship to community and to nature. The individual could only derive a sense of his or her authentic nature by resisting the ‘intervening forms’ of the Enlightenment and by reasserting a natural connectedness to the land and community as found in vernacular narrative traditions. The romantic valorisation of myth thus entailed a consequent valorisation—and mythologisation—of national cultures, particularly insofar as myths were considered to reveal a providential and divine order as the internal teleology of history. This was in contrast to the rationalist emphasis on the human agent’s instrumental role in the achievement of progress. In fact, from the eighteenth century onwards, the dialectical relationship between providence and progress constituted a definitive chiasmus upon which the field of mythology was founded and from which theories of myths’ functions and meanings were consequently derived, promoted, and contested. Romantic mythology was a post-Enlightenment response to rapid social change and political upheaval, and it used myths to retreat from the chaotic and overwhelming contemporary world into a sentimental, romanticised, and idealised past. One of the clearest examples of this tendency is found in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-


century Germany, where myth theorists, beginning with Johann Gottfried Herder, set the stage for the recovery of a myth of the autochthonous, pure German Volk, one that was to prove decisive in the struggle to assert a distinct German identity. It is to a discussion of this use of myth that I will now turn.






In the previous chapter I examined the broad intellectual and ideological contexts in which ‘myth’ was reactivated as a category for investigating human development and identity and for establishing human autonomy or a basis for national collectivity in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. The aim of the following chapters is to build on that contextualisation in order to investigate the content—that is, the meaning, status, and function—of myths of origin in the narration and authorisation of identities. These chapters are thus concerned with analysing a significant and yet understudied ‘moment’ of mythmaking and mythology within the romantic paradigm when the status of myth was inscribed within the rubric of German identity politics, the result being the production of a ‘discourse of differentiation’ that proceeded from a nationalist search for origins. I thus consider the role of mythmaking in the reinvented traditionalism of German nationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in particular its nostalgic search for origins. In so doing I aim to build on the previous chapter’s survey of the romantic ideological paradigm in seeking to relate the emergence of ideas about, and uses of, myth within eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Germany to broader socio- political and intellectual struggles. This chapter is divided into three main sections: the first two plot what amounted to a crisis of identity in Germany from the seventeenth century onwards as well as its earlier antecedents, in order to establish the specific context in which myths of origin for the German nation had a resonance and urgency that led towards an increasingly finely-tuned discourse of differentiation. Myth in this context employed images of differentiation and served a productive role in the legitimation of identity by positing the incommensurability of people groups founded on an increasingly elaborate myth of origin. The third section examines the mobilisation of myth—and its connection to notions of national identity—in the work of the most influential German mythologist of the eighteenth century, Johann Gottfried von Herder. For Herder myths were an essential resource for rediscovering the unique traits of any given ethnic group, and his demotic theories of the Volk (‘the common people’) as revealed within vernacular


folklore were important for the formulation of the German nationalist projects of the following centuries.

I. Origin and Legitimacy: The Search for German Identity

The historical context and political conditions that framed a new interest in the origin and history of the German people were those where the unity of German culture and identity was threatened by a variety of interrelated factors, some of which have been touched on in the previous chapter. In 1766 the Imperial Privy Councillor Friedrich Carl von Moser (1701-1785) asked despairingly, ‘What are the Germans?’ His own bleak reply was:

What we are then, we have been for centuries; that is, a puzzle of a political constitution, a prey of our neighbours, an object of their scorn outstanding in the history of the world, disunited among ourselves, weak from our divisions, strong enough to harm ourselves, powerless to save ourselves, insensitive to the honour of our name, indifferent to the glory of our laws, envious of our rulers, distrusting one another, inconsistent about principles, coercive about enforcing them, a great but also a despised people, a potentially happy but actually a very lamentable people. (in Schulze 1991:43)

The ‘lamentable’ status of the German people was in part the result of internal divisions within Germanic-speaking territories, reinforced by the two wars in Silesia (1740–1742 and 1744–1775) and the Seven Years War (1756–1763) where the imperial hegemony of Hapsburg Austria—firmly Catholic—was challenged by the anti-imperial, Protestant power in Prussia. The previously impoverished state of Brandenburg-Prussia had been transformed by King Frederick II (1712–1786), through a series of reforms, into a powerful modern state which contrasted favourably with those later attempted by the Austrian and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (1741–1790). The Holy Roman Empire, which had offered an ostensibly unifying political structure for the multitude of German regions, was, by the late-eighteenth century, hopelessly divided (Bendix 1978:379). Furthermore, regional divisions within the territories of Germany 1 meant that economic

1 ‘Germany’ was not, of course, a fully realised nation state in the sense most commonly understood today—after all, German unification was only, at least initially, achieved through the efforts of Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) in 1871. I am using the term ‘Germany’ as a matter of convenience, to indicate the collection of principalities that identified themselves explicitly as Germanic, either in terms of race, or of culture and language. It should be remembered, however, that even these means of measuring one’s ‘nationality’ were thoroughly contested and ambiguous during this period, and it is one of the tasks of the following chapters to demonstrate the ways in which race, culture, and language were being furnished with specific hermeneutic significance as the search for German identity gathered momentum. Schulze argues that this search was largely a preoccupation of an emergent bourgeoisie, created as a result of the transition between the feudalism of ancien regimes and the emancipatory doctrines of the Enlightenment. However, even amongst this class any sense of ‘Germanness’ was vague, and this for Schulze is one of the


unity was virtually impossible, particularly as each territory imposed its own customs restrictions, monetary and measurement systems, and legislative frameworks. As a result, Germany was economically backward compared, for example, to France, England, and the Netherlands, all of which had relatively stable and unified political systems by the end of the eighteenth century. German disunity was further exacerbated by ideological tensions between regions, in many ways replicating the tensions between Protestant Prussia and Catholic Austria, caused, as Schulze remarks, by ‘the conflict between Reformation and Counter Reformation [which] had not been resolved in Germany, unlike most of the other European states, but had been petrified by the principle of “cuius regio, eius religio” (whose the region, his the religion)’ 2 (1991:43). The insecurity of any politically stable sense of German identity was also reinforced on the cultural front by Enlightenment cosmopolitanism which had led to a devaluing of national and ethnic traditions, literatures, and beliefs throughout Europe and by the promotion of French as a utilitarian lingua franca most suited to the application of reasoned thought and ideals of liberty. In addition, as Martin Thom argues, one of the discursive vehicles for German inferiority inscribed within Enlightenment reckonings was that the Germanic peoples were ‘marked negatively’ as the ‘ethnic edge to early cities’ (1995:203); that is, cities were prioritised as sites of cosmopolitan civilisation in contrast to a ‘memory’ of the threatening ‘tribal’ organisation of the ancient Germans. Here the strong subtext was the recollection of the Sack of Rome by the Goths in 410 CE, gloomily viewed by Renaissance humanists and Enlightenment philosophes as having inaugurated the Dark Ages. Within the context of French ideological imperialism this idea was revived to assert a correspondence between the Roman Empire and France—and between Latin and French—as ‘bearer[s] of perfectibility’ and further, by reemploying the ancient Roman appellation of the Germans as barbarian tribes (Thom 2003:205). Such a parallel also recalled the necessity of guarding against the potential degeneration of civilised

explanations for why Germany never succumbed to the revolutionary impetus that transformed France: ‘The existing territorial state was seldom questioned by educated people; they felt, whether Prussians, Bavarians, Saxon-Goths, [etc.], thoroughly “Teutsch”….[W]hen they referred to such concepts as “nation”, “fatherland”, or “patriotism” they could be thinking of any sort of vaguely defined Germany as much as of the actual state in which they lived; they could also mean both of these at once’ (1991:47). 2 The principle of cuius region eius religio was juridically established at the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, extended to include the Calvinists slightly later, and then reasserted at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It proved to be a long-lived dictum, informing political and sectarian interactions in the German territories until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803.


mores within an expansive (French) empire should it fail to combat outside influences as Rome had. The French intellectual Antoine de Rivarol (1753–1801) could thus write, ‘Greece gave its laws to the barbarians who surrounded it; and Italy, which failed to follow its example and to constitute itself as a federal republic, was invaded in turn by the Germans, the Spanish and the French’ (in Thom 2003:189). Preserving French ideological hegemony—and thus heeding the failure of Rome to guard its empire against the barbarians—was seen to depend upon the promotion of the French language as a universally superior tool for communication across national boundaries, as it simultaneously enshrined Enlightenment values. As Rivarol announced, ‘The time would now seem to be ripe to speak of the French world, just as formerly one spoke of the Roman world’ (in Thom 1995:188). As a result, even French patois forms were treated as perversions of refined, city French, and were confined to rural provinces. German, as ‘at once too rich and too harsh, marred by its guttural pronunciation and its Gothic script’, was deemed by Rivarol to be ‘an unfit vehicle to serve as an instrument of universal communication between the peoples’ (in Thom 1995:189). The promotion of French in this way and the designation of the German language as ‘barbaric’ were certainly felt within Germany. Thom observes, for example, that Frederick II had been ‘aggressively francophone’ in his promotion of French culture, despite attempts by Herder, the German poet Friedrich Gottfried Klopstock (1724—1803), Goethe, and the Duchess Anna Amalia (17391807) to promote German as the language of the Prussian court at Weimar (Thom 1995:190). 3 In 1786 the French ambassador to the Prussian court, Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau (1749– 1791), asked the King why he had become a German Caesar but never a German Augustus, and Frederick replied: ‘But what more could I have done for German culture than I did do, by having nothing to do with it?’ (in Schulze 1991:45). The favour shown to French by the King contributed to the belief amongst the population in Germany that their own language, ‘then lacking a classical literature, was inferior to French’ (Thom 1995:188). 4 Moreover, in an effort to implement the egalitarian vision of the Enlightenment, in 1774 Frederick II reformed the German political system, ostensibly empowering individuals through education and the centralisation of power away from local rulers, but in reality preserving the monarchical system that was then threatened by the spread of republicanism. This led, as Carol Tully suggests, to ‘a

3 See also Schulze 1991:44 4 This was not just a problem for Germans. See Thom 1995:187–201.


fundamental weakening of the essentially group-based feudalistic society which had existed since the Middle Ages’ (1997:3). However, although many German (and other) intellectuals had been initially enthusiastic towards the fraternal and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror (1793–1794) that followed quickly disillusioned them; the original allure of the Enlightenment doctrine of individualism was now replaced by an acknowledgement of the horrifying consequences of jettisoning old values and authorities. 5 In addition, however, to the immediate context of German social fragmentation and French ideological, political, and military imperialism, the status and identity of the German people had long been a source of debate and controversy, particularly when compared, as it frequently was, to those European societies that could more firmly locate their cultural pedigree in classical Greece and Rome. 6 To understand better what amounted to a German identity crisis, therefore, I need to turn to a much earlier time.

II. The Ancient Origins of German Identity: Tacitus and the Germania

The story is a complex one, and begins with the discovery of two Latin texts, both written by the Roman historian Tacitus (c. 54–117 CE). The first was his ethnography of the German people, De Origine et Situ Germanorum (‘On the Origin and Geography of Germany’; c. 98 CE), more commonly known as the Germania (henceforth Tac. Ger) and written during the second consulship of the Emperor Trajan. The second was his account, written approximately twenty years later, of the defeat of three Roman legions in 9 CE by the Germanic prince of the Cherusci tribe, Arminius, which was narrated in the first three books of the Annals (henceforth Tac. Ann.). 7 Both texts became the founding documents of German nationalism from the Middle Ages onwards. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Germania had been lost from view until its recovery c. 1456. Poggio Bracciolini, a Renaissance scholar with Florentine connections, was obsessed with finding the lost works of classical antiquity and he had learned of the existence of a number of minor writings by Tacitus held by the ancient imperial Benedictine monastery in Hersfeld (situated in the province of Hesse-Nassau,

5 Carol Tully (1997:4) suggests that it was disillusionment with the French Enlightenment that led to the rejection of Enlightenment certainties found, for example, in the reactionary work of Edmund Burke (1729–97), Louis de Bonald (1754–1840), and Joseph de Maistre (1754–1821).

6 See James 1989:19–30 for a discussion of the continuing idealisation of ancient Greek culture amongst some German intellectuals, particularly Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. See also Harold 1989:19–20.

7 The Annals as a whole provides an account of the history of Rome from the death of Augustus in 14 CE to the end of the rule of the Emperor Domitian in 96 CE.


Prussia). In 1427, he attempted unsuccessfully, along with a number of other competing manuscript hunters, to persuade the monks in Hersfeld to sell them to him. Some years later, in 1451, Enoch of Ascoli (c. 1400–1457) was commissioned by Pope Nicholas V (1397–1455) to acquire the manuscripts. His first attempt was also unsuccessful but a return trip to Hersfeld in 1456 saw him in possession of the manuscripts, the rumour being that he had acquired them through devious means. He returned to Italy with the Agricola, the Germania, and the Dialogus de Oratoribus, to find that Nicholas V had died and, when Enoch himself died in the following year, the manuscripts passed into the custody of Stefano de Nardini of Ancona (n.d.). Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (1405–1464), who was later to become Pope Pius II, purchased them from Nardini and it was through him that the Germania first came to the attention of the German people. (See Schellhase 1976—especially Chapters 2 and 3—and Mendell 1935 for a fuller account of the recovery of the manuscripts.) The Germania must have seemed to Piccolomini to be a timely acquisition indeed. Martin Mair, the Chancellor to the Archbishop of Mainz (n.d.), had written a strident letter to Piccolomini in 1457, detailing German grievances against the papacy. These consisted of the ‘constant stream of taxes, offerings, fees and annates’ that were demanded of Germany by the Holy See (Thoms 1995:215; Holborn 1935:5–6), as well as the ruthless simony of papal benefices, a decline in the quality of priests and bishops (who were accused of acting like secular lords rather than servants of the Church), the widespread abuse of indulgences, and the summary transfer of legal cases beyond their proper German courts to Rome (thus bypassing the normal judiciary proceedings of the Holy Roman Empire). Piccolomini was well positioned to reply to these complaints, familiar as he was with early German history, and due to his earlier involvement in disputes between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy (Thoms 1995:214–215). In his response to Mair (De Ritu, Situ, Moribus et Condicione Germaniae Descriptio; 1458), Piccolomini drew heavily—but selectively—on Germania XVI–XXVI to argue that, according to Tacitus, the German tribes had been a primitive, uncultured, and barbaric people. He thus unfavourably compared the condition of the Germans as described by Tacitus, to the prosperous state of fifteenth-century Germany’s cities, arguing that the Germans demonstrably owed their prosperity to the ecclesiastical interventions of Rome (Thoms 1995:215). What Piccolomini could not have anticipated was the German response to these excerpts of the Germania. Despite Piccolomini’s forceful refutation of German autonomy,


resistance to the Papacy increased 8 and the Germania subsequently became more widely known. 9 It became the first of Tacitus’ works to be printed (Schama 2004:77). The Germania taken as a whole painted a more complimentary picture of the ancient Germans than Piccolomini’s selective reading would have it. For example, despite his criticisms of the German tribes’ crude agricultural practices, disordered settlements, and brawling and drunkenness (Chapters XXI to XXIII), Tacitus also praised their bravery, generous hospitality, physical strength, social institutions, and lack of interest in money or precious metals. It was two of Tacitus’ observations in particular, however, found in Chapters II and IV, that fuelled what Thom refers to as ‘the cult of primitive Germanic virtue’ (1995:214). Chapter II begins: ‘As to the Germans themselves, I think it probable that they are indigenous and that very little foreign blood has been introduced either by invasions or by friendly dealings with neighbouring peoples’ (Tac. Ger. II.1). Tacitus continues this theme in Chapter VI when he states that

For myself, I accept the view that the peoples of Germany have never contaminated themselves by intermarriage with foreigners but remain of pure blood, distinct and unlike any other nation. One result of this is that their physical characteristics, in so far as one can generalize about such a large population, are always the same: fierce- looking blue eyes, reddish hair, and big frames—which, however, can exert strength only by means of violent effort.

(Tac. Ger. IV.1–2)

It was primarily on the basis of these two chapters that the Germania was hailed as evidence for the ancient autochthony, as well as the primitive nobility, of the German people, a claim that was to reverberate with sinister effect in the twentieth century. The first three books of the Annals narrate the attempt by the Roman emperors Augustus (c. 27 BCE–14 CE) and Tiberias (14–37 CE) to subdue the German tribes. Tacitus

8 Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) polemic against papal abuses and the sale of ‘indulgences’ by church officials (the Ninety-Five Theses nailed to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg, 1517) stands as an exemplar of a nascent German resistance to the hegemony of the Roman papacy during this period and indicates that Mair’s earlier complaints still rankled with the Germans over half a century later. Although Luther’s intervention was couched in terms that seemed to argue for a return to the basic principles of the gospel that had been corrupted by ecclesiastical excesses, it was also arguably an attempt to assert the superiority and nobility of indigenous German values. He contrasted, for example, the papacy (and the pope, whom he equated with the Anti-Christ) with the German nation ‘the constancy, loyalty and noble nature of which is praised by all historians’ (in Poliakov 1974:82–83), a statement which seems to be an oblique reference to the Germania. Martin Luther is also believed to have been the first to change the hero Arminius’ name, whose exploits against the Romans I will review shortly, into the German name Hermann (the name ‘Arminius’ is a Latinised variant of the German name Armin or Hermann which is roughly equivalent to ‘warrior’ or ‘soldier’). See Benario 2004:87; Schellhase 1976:47; Schama 2004:95.

9 Stefano de Nardini had kept a version of the Germania copied in his own hand and arranged, in 1470, for the Germania to be published in Venice. Three years later it was published in Nuremberg, and the first (German) vernacular translation was published in Leipzig in 1496.


takes up the tale where the Roman historian Velleius Paterculus (c. 19 BCE–30 CE) 10 left off—the spectacular defeat at the Teutoburger Wald 11 in 9 CE of the Roman governor of Germania, Publius Quintilius Varus (n.d), by the Cheruscan prince Arminius (c.18 BCE– 21 CE)—and describes the eventually successful attempt by Germanicus, the grandson of Augustus and the nephew of Tiberius, to restore the honour of Rome by defeating the Cheruscans. In order to contextualise Tacitus’ account, it is necessary briefly to review Paterculus’ chronicle of the Roman defeat. By 9 CE the Romans had built a series of fortifications on the Danube, the Rhine, the Elbe, and the Weser. Tiberius Nero (the successor to Augustus) had twice attempted to gain control of the interior of Germania (Vell. Pat. ii.105–109) and on the Emperor Augustus’ instructions had appointed Quintilius Varus governor of the dominion, providing him with three legions in order to complete the acquisition of the territory and transform it into a Roman province. However, according to Paterculus, Varus was ill-suited to the task:

Varus Quintilius, descended from a famous rather than a high-born family, was a man of mild character and of a quiet disposition, somewhat slow in mind as he was in body, and more accustomed to the leisure of the camp than to actual service in war. That he was no despiser of money is demonstrated by his governorship of Syria: he entered the rich province a poor man, but left it a rich man and the province poor. When placed in charge of the army in Germany, he entertained the notion that the Germans were a people who were men only in limbs and voice, and that they, who could not be subdued by the sword, could be soothed by the law. With this purpose in mind he entered the heart of Germany as though he were going among a people enjoying the blessings of peace, and sitting on his tribunal he wasted the time of a summer campaign in holding court and observing the proper details of legal procedure.

But the Germans, who with their great ferocity combine great craft, to an extent scarcely credible to one who has had no experience with them, and are a race to lying born, by trumping up a series of fictitious lawsuits, now provoking one another to disputes, and now expressing their gratitude that Roman justice was settling these disputes, that their own barbarous nature was being softened down by this new and hitherto unknown method, and that quarrels which were usually settled by arms were now being ended by law, brought Quintilius to such a complete degree of negligence, that he came to look upon himself as a city praetor

10 Velleius Paterculus, Res Gestae Divi Augusti, Book II, Chpts. 117–125, henceforth cited as Vell. Pat.

11 The Teutoburger Wald is located to the north of the central European uplands, extending eastward toward the Weser river, southward from the town of Osnabrück and southeastwards to Paderborn (Schama 2004:88). Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) wrote what was widely considered to be the definitive account of the conflict in the Teutoburger Wald (the Bella Germaniae) although it is no longer extant (ibid.), and it is likely that this work was a major source for Tacitus (Gudeman 1900:100–105). A very brief account of the Roman defeat at the hands of Arminius is also found in Caius Suetonius Tranquillus’ De Vita Caesarum, Chpts. XVII and XXV (see bibliographic entry under Suetonius—the Loeb Classical Library titles his work Suetonius).


administering justice in the forum, and not a general in command of an army in the heart of Germany.

(Vell. Pat. XI.117.2–118.1)

Varus’ practice of levying excessive taxes on the German tribes soon proved intolerable and Arminius, now chief of the Cheruscans, persuaded the chiefs of other Germanic tribes to join with him in revolt. Paterculus states that although Varus was warned of the plot he refused to take any action against the conspirators but insisted upon judging the apparent friendship of the Germans toward him by the standard of his merit’ (Vell. Pat.


Arminius, both Paterculus and Tacitus tell us, was trained as a military commander by the Romans, achieving the rank of equestrian, and from approximately 4 CE onwards he commanded a Cheruscan detachment of Roman auxiliary forces in Germany (Vell. Pat. II.118.2; Tac. Ann. II.10). Having gained the support of his fellow chiefs, Arminius and his army lured Varus and the Roman troops (comprising in total approximately 25-30,000 men) to the Teutoburger Wald where they launched a ferocious attack, almost totally annihilating the Romans. Varus, certain of defeat, fell on his sword; his head was sent to Caesar Augustus in Rome (Vell. Pat. II.118). The news of the defeat threw Rome into consternation (Sue. Aug. XXIII). When Tacitus resumes the tale, it is 14 CE and Germanicus has been given command of the legions stationed in Germania. By this time, on the strength of his victory, Arminius’ forces have increased in number and his army is, if anything, an even more formidable force than that faced by Varus. Germanicus is ordered to restore the honour of Rome by defeating Arminius and sets about the task with 80,000 troops at his disposal. Tacitus portrays Germanicus as consumed with avenging Varus’ ghost and honouring the fallen soldiers with a proper burial, almost, as Schama suggests, ‘to the point of vicariously reliving the trauma’ (2004:89). After a series of disastrous encounters with the Germans that seem to augur a repeat of Varus’ debacle (Tac. Ann. I.162–169), Germanicus finally subdues Rome’s enemies, but is then summoned back to Rome by a jealous Tiberias before the Roman position can be consolidated. Arminius survives, only to be betrayed and killed by his kinsmen in 19 CE (Tac. Ann. II.88). At the end of the second book of the Annals, in an obituary of Arminius, Tacitus hails him, claiming that, ‘Assuredly he was the deliverer of Germany, one too who had defied Rome, not in her early rise, as other kings and generals, but in the height of her empire's glory, had fought, indeed, indecisive battles, yet in war remained unconquered (Ann. II.88).


The efficacy of the Germania’s and Annals’ appearance for cultivating German patriotism cannot be exaggerated. As a form of proto-nationalism began to emerge in fifteenth-century Germany Arminius was recovered as the hero of Germany. For the German humanists of the time, the victories of Arminius were a powerful symbol of a divinely ordained German autonomy particularly against a scene in which a condescending Roman Papacy continued to assert its cultural and historical superiority. In 1471, a year after the Germania was first published in Venice, Pope Paul’s legate, Giovannantonia Campano (1429–1477), spent several months in Regensburg as representative of the Holy See to the Imperial Diet. Campano was trying to win the support of German cities and princes, and, in particular, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, to undertake a crusade against the Turks who had conquered Constantinople in 1453. Campano, drawing from Tacitus, flattered his hosts by eulogising the ancient Germans’ military valour and nobility. However, his personal view of the Germans was unfortunately—for the Papal cause at any rate—revealed in private letters to friends in which he derided the Germans, their unproductive land, inclement climate, rough speech, simple way of life, and intellectual barbarism, drawing unfavourable contrasts with Rome. The letters were circulated widely shortly after they were written (Spitz 1957:94) and published in 1495 as Opera Omnia (Rowlands 1994:318, n. 25). Not only did the letters drastically dampen German support for efforts against the Turks, they generated increasing patriotic fervour and provoked indignant responses from many learned Germans, not least that of the poet laureate, scholar, and orator Conrad Celtis (1459–1508). As Schama suggests, Celtis was responsible ‘more than any other Renaissance humanist…for reclaiming the Germania for the Germans’ and he ‘played a decisive role in pushing Germany away from the domination of papal Rome’ (2004:92; 93). 12 In an oration delivered in 1492 at the University of Ingolstadt, where he had been appointed a regular professor of the humanities, Celtis sought to inspire in his German audience an awareness of their renown in antiquity and purportedly natural nobility. Eight years later, when he had moved to Vienna, he presented the first series of lectures on the Germania urging his countrymen to

assume, O men of Germany, that ancient spirit of yours with which you so often confounded and terrified the Romans and turn your eyes to the frontiers of

Germany; collect her torn and broken territories. Let us be ashamed…I say, to have

placed upon our nation the yoke of slavery

free and powerful people, O noble


12 See also Spitz 1957:93–105; Borchardt 1971:106–109; Schellhase 1976:35–40; Benario 2004:84–85.


such an extent are we corrupted by Italian sensuality and by

fierce cruelty in extracting filthy lucre that it would have been far more holy and reverent for us to practice that rude and rustic life of old, living within the bounds

and valiant race


of self-control, than to have imported the paraphernalia of sensuality and greed which are never sated, and to have adopted foreign customs.

(in Forster 1948:47, 53)

Celtis’ reliance on Tacitus is unambiguous, both in his allusion to Arminius’ victory over the Roman legions and in his evocation of the wholesome and simple way of life in ancient Germany. In 1515 Tacitus’ Annales I–VI were published and parallels were quickly drawn between the ancient enmity of Rome and Germany, and the current resistance by the Holy Roman Empire against papal dominance, a highlight of which was Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses. The literary work which established Arminius as a German hero within sixteenth-century Germany was Ulrich von Hutten’s Arminius: Dialogus Huttenicus quo hom patriae amantissimus patriae laudem celebravit, written in 1519–1520 and published posthumously in 1538. 13 Hutten (1481–1523), who was an indignant opponent of the papacy and champion of Luther’s Reformation and German patriotism, had spent some time in Italy in 1515 where he became acquainted with Tacitus’ Annales. His Arminius was motivated by the desire to win political liberty and independence from Rome. In 1517 he was made poet laureate by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519). Arminius, his best known work, is in the collection Gesprachsbüchlein (1521). The figure of Arminius, as ‘Hermann der Cherusca’, was resurrected at the height of nineteenth-century German romantic nationalism (along with a celebration of Hutten as the ‘father’ of German patriotism) as I will show in Chapter 6. The Germania served, as Lincoln suggests, to ‘[break] the Mediterranean monopoly on antiquity, giving Germans…their first taste of the prestige derived from a deep and noble past’ (1999:48). Moreover, the Germania was employed to render credible a belief in the unbroken continuity of the German people from a singular point of origin, an idea that was skilfully exploited by German humanists from the Renaissance onwards to oppose first Roman, and then French hegemony (see Reynolds 1955:29–37). 14 The rise of German identity politics from the fifteenth century onwards—indebted to the discovery of a credible German hero and autochthonous roots—and the emergence of an

13 The first German translation did not appear until 1815. 14 See Schellhase 1976:31–65 for a detailed survey of the popularity of the Germania amongst German patriots—particularly Conrad Celtis—in the centuries that followed. See also Thom



ideal German type set the stage for the later romantic theorisation—or exploitation—of the content and aesthetic contours of ‘Germanness’. An echo of this burgeoning interest in German origins was also provided by the Ossianic poetry of James Macpherson (1736–1796), which, in addition to the data provided by Tacitus, helped to enable German writers from the late seventeenth century onwards to theorise the noble character of Germanic ancestry gleaned from vernacular folklore. 15 Macpherson’s Ossian had reached the intellectuals of eighteenth-century Germany, and in particular Herder, whom Schama (2004:102) aptly considers to be the heir of Celtis. Herder was a major influence on the Sturm und Drang (‘Storm and Stress’) literary movement 16 which preceded German romanticism, and I will explore his mythology and theories of organic human development in the next section. Herder had first become acquainted with the Ossian poems in 1769 when he wrote a review of Michael Denis’ translation of the poems into German (Die Gedichte Ossians eines alten

15 Macpherson, a Scottish poet and teacher, born in the central Highlands of Scotland, compiled a considerable collection of Gaelic poetry in the aftermath of the defeat of the Scottish Jacobites at Culloden in 1746. The impact of the defeat and the imposition of English on the vernacular traditions of the Highlands was devastating as not only was use of the indigenous Gaelic language discouraged, but the customs and storytelling traditions were effectively wiped out, serving to underscore the political disenfranchisement of the population. In 1760 Macpherson published Fragments of Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Galic or Erse Language which purported to be a translation of the poetry of an ancient Scottish blind bard called Ossian. The publication of the poems was an immediate sensation as their depictions of ancient noble warriors and the Highlands’ humane, civilised society provided a means with which to reply to the charge of ‘savagery’ with which the English regularly taunted the Scottish people. See Dwyer 1991:169. Unfortunately for Macpherson, however, the provenance of the poems was soon challenged and he quickly found himself embroiled in a controversy regarding their authenticity.

16 The Sturm und Drang movement which took its name from F. M. von Klinger’s play about the American Revolution, Wirrwarr; oder, Sturm und Drang (1776), included Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) and Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805). It generated many of the central ideas of German romanticism and was characterised by its emphasis on the unease of the individual in contemporary society, particularly in view of the upheavals wrought by the Industrial, American, and French Revolutions. Its most distinctive feature was a belief in the original unity of humanity, one that had been discarded by Enlightenment’s bifurcation of human experience into the oppositional categories of reason and emotion, humanity and nature. The Sturm und Drang thinkers (Sturmer) idealised the integral unity of humans—particularly their ‘spiritual’ natures— with the natural world, suggesting that it constituted a prerequisite for human spiritual self- expression as the core component of authentic being. Moreover, as Whitton suggests, ‘it was language and the cultural creations generated by human linguistic activity that were identified as the essential medium through which this creative, expressive unity achieved its actualisation. In the natural creations of human language, the Sturmer believed, one could discern the aesthetic expression of the harmonious community of people with the greater spiritual whole which constituted their world’ (1988:159). It was during the Sturm und Drang period in Germany that calls for the revival of a national identity became a serious matter for intellectual consideration. While it was to be many years before these calls were actualised, many of the writers of the movement, Herder included, worked hard to ensure the revival of a truly authentic German tradition. See Pascal 1967 and Taylor 1975:Ch. 1.


Celtischen Dichters, aus dem Englischen übersetzt von M Denis aus der G. J. [‘The Poems of the old Celtic poet Ossian, from the English Language, translated by M. Denis’], 1768/9). 17 Seeing Ossian as a symbol of authentic native expression, opposed to the cosmopolitan literature of neo-classicism, he wrote Auszug aus einem Briefwechsel über Ossian und die Lieder alter Völker (‘Extract from a Correspondence about Ossian and the Songs of Ancient Peoples’) in 1773, suggesting that the lyrical expression of the Ossian poems was characteristic of all peoples whose traditions were hermetically contained. For Herder, accepting that Macpherson was sincere, Ossian’s poems were ‘songs of the people, songs of an uncultivated, sense-perceptive people’ (in Clark 1955:147), and he believed that the survival of the Ossian fragments held out hope for a similar recovery of German traditions which were being lost through the imposition of French formalist literary conventions. Macpherson’s work—or at least, the Ossianic corpus—was, therefore, in Herder’s eyes, an especially useful model for the reconstruction of Germanic traditions and identity. It is in the context of the retrieval of German origins through Tacitus, as well as the latter threat posed to the autonomy of the German culture by French ideological imperialism, that Herder’s interest in Macpherson’s Ossian as a prototype of the nobility of tribal origins is understandable. It also helps to make sense of the valorisation of the German Volk found in his organicist theories of history, to which I will now turn.

III. Herder’s Organicism and the Importance of the Volk

Herder was born in East Prussia in 1744. He studied philosophy at the University of Königsberg under Immanuel Kant and the ‘irrationalist’ philosopher Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788). He soon became an established philosopher in his own right. In 1774 he published his first essay in the philosophy of history, ‘Auch eine Philosophie der Geschicte zur Bildung der Menscheit’ (‘Yet Another Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity’), which was followed by Vom Geist der Ebräischen Poesie (‘On the Spirit of Hebrew Poetry’, 1782–3), and his major work Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschicte der Menschheit (‘Ideas for the Philosophy of History of Humanity’, 1784–91), amongst numerous other writings. It was in the Ideen that Herder most comprehensively developed his philosophy of social organicism and elaborated a theory of history as the differentiated development of discrete Volk. 18 His main aim in doing so was to critique

17 See Gaskill 2001:212–213. 18 I will define what I mean by the terms ‘social organicism’ and ‘Volk’ shortly.


the basic assumptions of the Enlightenment conception of history and human nature. As Brian Whitton notes, Herder’s hostility towards Enlightenment rationalism and cosmopolitanism was directed at its tendency to abstract history and ethnic identities ‘from their connection with the contingent elements of human historical, linguistic, and cultural practices’ (1988:150; see also Herder 1969:197). Herder’s problem with expansive cosmopolitanism was that it threatened to erase unique and valuable differences between cultures under a slogan of universalism by imposing what was, instead, a narrow ideological paradigm whose application was only appropriate to the distinct context of European society in the eighteenth century. In the Ideen, Herder took exception to the Enlightenment notion that the eighteenth century was the apogee of human civilisation: ‘It would be the most stupid vanity to imagine that all the inhabitants of the world must be Europeans to live happily’ (1803, I:393). He also warned of the danger inherent in the imposition of generalised ideals like equality and liberty, although importantly not fraternity, suggesting that they could be used to justify the domination of one culture over others (1969:320). Against the Enlightenment view of sociality, Herder developed an organic theory of human evolution organised around three core principles which he believed characterised the uniqueness of individual Volk which I will now discuss: climate, language, and Nationalbildung (the transmission of traditions).

(i) Climate, Language, and Nationalbildung: The Volk in History

This section will only deal with the philosophy of organicism as it pertains to Herder’s theories of the history of the Volk. By referring to Herder’s thought as organicist I mean to indicate that he considered society to be an organic structure, on the model of a biological organism, where values and social forms evolved according to natural law rather than through deliberate human intervention. Herder’s notion of what constitutes the ‘natural’ will be discussed below when I present his theory of Naturordnung. Herder’s theories of social organicism owed much to the earlier work of Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) as well as that of Charles de Montesquieu (1689–1755). Vico’s historicist and Montesquieu’s holistic theories both focused on discrete ethnic communities as the foundation of social development and they welcomed the diversity of nations. Isaiah Berlin identifies three concepts that encapsulate Herder’s organicism, summarising them as ‘populism’, ‘expressionism’, and ‘pluralism’ (1976:153). He


suggests that they explain both Herder’s organicism and his enduring influence on the German intellectuals who followed. For Berlin, Herder’s concept of populism consists of a ‘belief in the value of belonging to a group or a culture, which…is not political, and is indeed, to some degree, anti-political, different from, and even opposed to, nationalism’ (ibid.). Expressionism is the idea that all human activities, especially artistic expression, ‘express the entire personality of the individual or group, and are intelligible only to the degree to which they do so’. Moreover, these expressions are ‘voices speaking’, in that they are ‘part of a living process of communication between persons and not independently existing entities’ (1976:165). Berlin interprets Herder’s notion of expressionism, therefore, as a ‘network of belief and behaviours which binds men to one another’ 19 within that community, a network that is then articulated through ‘common, public symbolism’, or language (ibid.). This pronounced individualism may hinder intercultural ties, however, and in this sense, Herder’s notion of pluralism posits the incommensurability of the values of different cultures and societies (1976:153). Herder’s view of history, informed as it was by his organicist orientation, was one where its iterative and accumulative quality was emphasised: a community accrues its culture and tradition through its interaction with unique geographical, linguistic, and historical confluences, a process which is embedded in what he calls the Naturordnung (‘natural order’). Herder viewed the development of the Volk within this order as ‘a chain of sociability and educational tradition’ (‘eine Kette der Geselligkeit und bildende Tradition’; 1841:337), thus emphasising the importance of a cohesion and stability of values upon which future generations can build. It is difficult to offer a satisfactory English translation of the term Volk as found in Herder’s work. As Lincoln notes, ‘it is a term whose full denotative and affective significance is lost in its lame English equivalents (e.g., “folk,” “people,” “ethnicity,” or “nation”)’ (1999:53). However, Rudolf Große’s inventory of its constituent aspects helps to clarify its range and resonance:

‘community of people; common ancestry; shared lifestyles; shared ways of thinking; common culture; same language’ (in Tully 1997:6, fn. 9). Kenneth Minogue’s definition is also helpful: ‘not simply the people of a country, but a metaphysical entity defined relationally as that which produces a particular language, art, culture, set of great men, religion and collection of customs. All of these things are taken, not as products of

19 While Berlin’s use of the term ‘men’ here is clearly intended, however deplorably, as generic noun to indicate humanity, to read it as gendered is not altogether mistaken. As I will show shortly, Herder did in fact view a community’s traditions to be passed down the male line.


individual men but as manifestations of the spirit of the people, or volksgeist’ (1967:57). Ernst Dick provides a more politically-nuanced definition when he states that ‘Volk can stand for a number of meanings…the people as a nation (L. populus, natio)…the people belonging to a historical subdivision of a nation, or to a tribal society (L. gens, G. Stamm); and…the people of the lower classes, the governed class, the uneducated, who, depending on the point of view, may be regarded as the common people (L. vulgus) or as rabble (L. plebs)’ (1990:18–19). Among the influences that affect the organic socialisation of the Volk, Herder identified three key factors: climate, or geographical location, language, and Nationalbildung. 20 The distinctiveness of a community first evolves through its interaction with the climate of the regions that it inhabits. This interaction produces, in turn, both the customs and physical characteristics of the community:

As the mineral water derives its component parts, its operative power, and its flavour from the soil through which it flows, so the ancient character of peoples arose from the family features, the climate, the way of life and education, the early reactions and employments, that were peculiar to them. The manners of the fathers took deep root and became the internal prototype of the descendants.

(1993, XIV:84)

More important than climate for marking the distinctiveness of a community, however, is language, which was seen by Herder as the primary expression of reflexive consciousness (Whitton 1988:151). In this sense, language is the medium through which individuals formulate and articulate their experiences of the external world and so, as Lincoln observes, for Herder it both ‘reflect[ed] a Volk’s environs and historic experience and structures its thought and social relations’ (1999:53). According to Herder, this process of conscious and continuous linguistic development was fundamentally a social process and facilitated the inclusion of individuals within a broader linguistic community. Isaiah Berlin describes Herder’s promotion of this organic and continuous socialisation in terms of ‘belonging’, suggesting that

The notion of belonging is at the heart of all Herder’s ideas. His doctrine of the unity of theory and practice, like that of his populism, is intelligible only in terms of it. To belong is not a passive condition, but active co-operation, social labour.


For Herder, then, the function of language was to integrate individuals into the community by enabling them to acquire a sense of shared identity and endeavour, an

20 Herder was not the first to note the influence of climate and environment on the development of human societies. Jean Bodin (1530-1596) had renewed the medieval theory of climates and had given it a pseudo-scientific application to history, and Montesquieu (1689–1755) had also developed a conception of the influence of climate upon the state. See Spitz 1955:461.


operation that he called Nationalbildung. He saw culture as essentially national and his theory of Nationalbildung suggested that it was the mode through which the community could labour collectively to articulate—and guard—its unique cultural consciousness embodied in its language. In the course of assimilating the language of their community, individuals incorporated their cultural heritage, a process that ensured the continuity of the community’s history, traditions, and unique worldview. The transmission of tradition, for Herder, was through education (bildung) particularly insofar as the iterative quality of education lent itself well to the dissemination and preservation of the values and ancient practices of a Volk (1803:227). Herder’s vision of education was certainly distinct from that of mainstream Enlightenment thought which conceived of education as a fundamentally progressive tool, enabling individuals to acquire uniform knowledge through the application of reason and to discern truth. Tradition was accordingly devalued and subordinated to reason as the key to progressive social change. Conversely, Herder felt that change—if it was to be beneficial—had to be gradual and implemented with reference to tradition and cultural specificity. 21 Herder’s view of education as tradition was, in the main, geared toward upholding the existing social order as it had been forged over time. Jennifer Fox notes the patriarchal subtext to this view of tradition as maintaining the social order, suggesting that for Herder, ‘the very essence of tradition is masculine. Whereas the maternal province is to provide physical nourishment by the breast, the paternal role is to provide spiritual nourishment by instilling tradition’ (1987:567). Herder provided a clear example of his differentiation between paternal and maternal roles that helps to support Fox’s claim:

Paternal love…is best displayed by a manly education. The father early inures his son to his own mode of life: teaches him his art, awakens in him the sense of fame, and in him loves himself, when he shall grow old, or be no more. This feeling is the basis of all hereditary honour and virtue: it renders education a public, an external work: it has been the instrument of transmitting to posterity all the excellencies and prejudices of the human species.


The model of paternal transmission as the most natural and legitimate idiom for the preservation of tradition is a common and powerful one, and is demonstrably a foundational myth of patriarchy. Along with myths of male parthenogenesis, its implications for a feminist politics of identity and philosophy of myth are considered in

21 Herder promoted radical reform of elementary German education and during his tenure in Weimar (1776–1803) where he was the minister of education, he revised the school curriculum in order to ensure pupils’ immersion in German culture, language, and history (Hayes 1927:732).


detail in Chapters 8 and 9. However, here I would note that the model of patrilineal dissemination contained in Herder’s notions of Nationalbildung became a central—if tacitly assumed—aspect of the German nostalgia for origins and the formulation of German models of indigenous identity. The patriarchal family unit, for Herder, thus played a crucial role in transmitting values and traditions from one generation to the next. The parent, Herder argued, is the natural instructor of the child. ‘Each individual is son or daughter….He or she receives from the earliest moments of life part of the cultural treasures of the ancestral heritage…[which he or she] in turn passes on’ (1969:312–313). Education supervised by family, teachers, and friends established a ‘chain of unity and continuity in which each link…[receives and transmits] the cultural heritage of the Volk [in a process which entails] language and its continuous growth’ (1969:170). Importantly, this model of genetic transmission served to enhance the specificity and uniqueness of a Volk, untainted as it was assumed to be by outside influences; traditions were literally kept ‘in the family’. He explicitly invoked Tacitus’ Germania, urging his fellow Germans to read it in order to gain a picture of the original German character:

Read Tacitus, because there you will find our character; the German tribes who themselves have not degenerated through intermixture with others, they are a distinct, unadulterated original nation which is the archetype of itself.

(1877, I:367)

He further argued that ‘These barbarians are our fathers, their language the source of our language, and their unrefined songs the mirror of the ancient German soul [reflected] in the simplicity of our character’ (1877, II:246) Thus, Herder’s model of transmission was, in effect, a genealogical fiction that aimed to sustain the collectivity of the group and, further, contained a strong subtext of racial purity (see Schöpflin 1997:34). 22

22 Herder’s exclusivist model will be discussed in the context of German nationalism and its consequent anti-Semitism in Chapter 7, but in the interim some comment is required here regarding Herder’s attitude towards Jewish people, particularly in view of the fact that his theories of the Volk were later resurrected in the service of German anti-Semitism. Lincoln, who is one of the few scholars to draw attention to Herder’s frequent use of anti-Semitic stereotypes, argues that for Herder, the Jews in diaspora ‘were a Volk radically detached from their homeland’ and as a result posed a threat to the unique collective identity of the Völker in whose lands they had settled (1999:56). By way of example, Lincoln cites Herder on the subject of the Jews: ‘God’s Volk, to whom Heaven itself once gave their Vaterland, for millennia—indeed, almost since their beginning—have been a parasitical plant on the trunks of other nations; a race of crafty brokers throughout almost the whole World, who, in spite of all oppression, have nowhere longed for their own honour and dwelling, nowhere longed for a Vaterland of their own’ (ibid. [Ideen 3.12.3]). It is easy to see how Herder’s organicist theories could lead him to such a view. By exalting the uniqueness of each Volk through its primordial connection to the land and its language, it was


In spite of Herder’s emphasis on cultural diversity, he situated his account of the historical development of the Volk within a broader notion of providential Humanität, a divinely sanctioned human essence that was the bedrock of the heterogeneous traditions of every community. 23 He suggested that, while human cultural expression was immensely variegated, ‘within this ever changing husk the kernel of human substance remains…the same’ (1969:215). For Herder, each Volk was a distinctive entity that held within itself what Whitton calls ‘a unique variation on the theme of humanity and a corresponding tendency to develop this variant to its fullest extent’ (1988:156). Within Herder’s cultural organicism, then, the exponential development of heterogeneous cultural forms was conceived as an infinite, unfolding narrative. The historical generation of diversity, from the singular or monogenetic ground of Humanität was, ‘God’s epic through all the centuries…a fable with a thousand variations full of meaning’ (1969:283). The notion of Humanität, however, should not be confused with the universalism of Enlightenment formulations. For Herder, Humanität was only visible and intelligible through close attention to cultural difference.

(ii) Herder on Myth and the Volk

The carefully balanced tension between the one and the many was reflected in Herder’s understanding of the role and place of myths in the development and continuity of the Volk. He argued for the need to examine myths in their indigenous context, and called for communities to retrieve their own myths in order to nourish their authentic communal identity. He opposed the Enlightenment dismissal of myth as superstitious and irrational, insisting instead that myths were only comprehensible through an empathetic recognition 24 of their truth for the people who created and believe in them.

somewhat inevitable that ‘alien’ elements would need to be isolated and that the Jews would be represented as an exemplar of a lack of rootedness. This is not to say that Herder was unsympathetic to the Jews’ long estrangement from their land. He advocated, after all, that the Jewish people should be granted a homeland, a stance which has, ironically, led some to read him as philo-Semitic (ibid.).

23 Berlin suggests that the ‘notoriously vague’ concept of Humanität denotes the ‘harmonious development of all immortal souls towards universally valid goals: reason, freedom, toleration, mutual love and respect between individuals and societies, as well as physical and spiritual health, finer perceptions, dominion over the earth, the harmonious realization of all that God has implanted in His noblest work and made in His own image’ (1976:193). Herder’s notion of Humanität is clearly indebted to the formulations of the deists, particularly in its invocation of an original natural religion in which all ancient people had purportedly participated in the earliest stages of their development.

24 Feldman and Richardson suggest that Herder may have coined the German word Einfühlung or ‘empathy’ to refer to this way of approaching other people’s myths (1972:226).


Thus, as Feldman and Richardson argue, according to Herder, ‘Myth…is never simply false, but only relatively so; that is, false to those who have other myths, other world- views….In short, all myth not only seems alive and true to its believers, but indeed is true’ (1972:226). This equivocal view of myth’s veracity strongly foreshadowed the later romantic view of myths: rather than being materially true in any simplistic sense, they conveyed deeper ‘spiritual’ truths that revealed both the spirit of the Volk and their particular expression of the universally inscribed divine will. As Feldman and Richardson suggest, Herder was ‘the first really influential thinker to emancipate myth from rationalist or Christian context and strictures, opening it to world horizons, the dimension of historical time and cultural relativism, and deepening its meaning as a profound mode of truth’ (1972:225). In the poems of Ossian (and Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 1765) Herder saw great promise for his own quest to recover the ancient German past through the recovery of vernacular folklore and myth and to build a sense of German community. He wanted, therefore, to stimulate a deeper study of national, social and cultural history, of folk songs, ballads, traditional lore, and language, and he reproached his more cosmopolitan contemporaries for their neglect of these genres. Of course, the problem for Herder was that the Germany of his day could hardly be called a nation at all, for all the reasons discussed above. Under these circumstances, Herder’s main concern was to discover the sources of a distinctly German literary tradition and therefore to nurture a feeling of German unity amongst his compatriots. It was necessary, however, for Herder first to gain recognition for the German language as an umbrella under which to create a sense of cultural unity. For Herder, a nationality and literature without a language of its own was inconceivable and he urged Germans to ‘know your own language…and develop it for poetry, philosophy, and prose. For then you are building the foundation which will hold a building’ (in Ergang 1931:155). 25 For Herder the reasons for the lack of a distinctive German tradition in literature were immediately obvious. He placed the blame firmly on the impact of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and the subsequent domination of Latin and French over the German language. Further, he deplored the intellectual and stylistic debt of German

25 His near contemporary Justus Möser (1720–1794) held similar views and he too called for a literature that was specifically German in its content and form, one that would provide an effective challenge to French hegemony. Möser was also instrumental in establishing a movement for the purification and development of High German which he thought could rival French and which had the added benefit of being the language of the common people. See Ergang 1933:182.


writers to French literary traditions, suggesting that Germany had as a result been prevented from taking pride in its own culture and history. Herder argued against the slavish imitation of non-vernacular idioms by suggesting that it was in fact the particular idioms within a language that established its unique ability to express a Volk’s own genius and character (1877, XIII:369–370). His argument for the use of the German language arguably foreshadowed his view that a people’s sense of themselves as a nation was derived from its folklore and it was after he had read Percy and the Ossian poems that he was persuaded that the way to recover and safeguard Germany’s language and narrative traditions was to follow the English and Scottish examples and collect the folksongs among the peasantry. 26 Herder firmly believed that the German folk tradition was at least the equal of the English and Scottish revival and was the means by which Germany could produce a unique and definable high literature of its own, one that would, in turn, aid the development of national sentiment and a reciprocal sense of belonging to an ancient and heroic Volk (1877, IX:528–529). Herder’s view of myth and folklore was remarkably radical when, for the aristocracy of the time as well as Enlightenment thinkers in the eighteenth century, the idea that a sophisticated literary tradition could be derived from the folklore of the lowest orders of society, or from a German vernacular was virtually unthinkable. One of the Enlightenment projects was to raise the educational level of the peasants until, through the acquisition and application of rational thought, they would be ready to join those who had already been ‘liberated’ from ancient myth and superstition. Herder was strongly opposed to this idea, believing that the peasants were in no need of improvement but rather that their simple lifestyle, customs, and narrative traditions were to be emulated. The folk traditions of every native Volk, for Herder, were valuable

26 It is possible that Herder was influenced by Rousseau’s proto-romantic notion of the noble savage (le bon sauvage) which Rousseau discussed in his essay ‘Discourse on the Arts and Sciences’ (1750) and later elaborated in his Discourse on Equality (1754), although, it is the poet John Dryden (1631–1700) who is credited with coining the term in his comedy Marriage A-la-Mode (1672). Rousseau contended that the individual was good by nature, a ‘noble savage’ when in the state of nature but corrupted by the development of civilisation and society. As Barnard suggests, ‘When Rousseau, Herder, or the Romantics invoked nature, they did so in order to oppose the contrived and artificial to the authentic and spontaneous. They wished to remind men that natural growth could be stunted, human capacities and human development warped, that, in short, ‘progress’ could mean decay and alienation’ (1983:233). Herder insisted that the natural simplicity of the ‘savage’ was a firm foundation for nurturing national sentiment: ‘The savage who loves his wife and child with quiet joy and glows with natural ardour for his tribe as for his own life, is in my opinion a more real being than that cultivated ghost who is enraptured with the shadow of his whole species’ (1877, XIII. 339).


in their own terms, without regard to the progress of human civilisation or its achievements at any given time. For Herder, myth represented both a principle of equality which united all of human experience, and a principle of diversity which allowed for unique expression of Völkisch experience; although each nation created a distinct literature from its own folk heritage, folk poetry was valuable ‘because of its constant and international elements’ (Clark 1955:431). Herder thus set about collecting folksongs and narratives from a wide range of sources, publishing his Volkslieder (‘Folksongs’, a term he coined in 1771). The first volume included not only German folksongs but also examples from Italian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Danish, Spanish, Inca, Eskimo, Latin, Greek, and Old Norse. The work stands as an instance of Herder’s remarkable insight into the relationship between indigenous and universal values. In Herder’s work, therefore, it is clear that he considered myths to be a primary resource for the collective identity of the Volk, particularly in terms of their absorption and transmission, in narrative form, of the effects of climate and language, and their role in Nationalbildung. 27 His interpretation of the role and status of myth corresponded to his theories of social organicism, and in particular to the identity of the Volk within the broader frame of Humanität. Myth, for Herder, was an organic historical process and the major motifs he employed in his copious reflections on myth reflected this attitude:

myths demonstrated the original organic unity of all human experience as well as the independence of different cultures; they corresponded without mediation to particular Volk; they attested to divine ordination in history; and they cemented a Volk’s self- understanding and traditions. Furthermore, for Herder, myths mobilised and expressed the three factors that affected the organic socialisation of the Volk—climate and environment, language, and Nationalbildung. As Lincoln suggests, in Herder’s understanding, ‘the environment impresses itself directly on the bodies of a Volk, it impresses itself on their customs and mores through the medium of myths, which the Volk use to reflect on their surroundings and history and to transmit ancestral traditions from one generation to another’ (Lincoln 1999:53). As such, myths were the means through which a Volk produced, recollected, and ensured the continuity of its distinctive identity.

27 Ironically, however, as Poliakov notes, ‘German mythology was only preserved outside Germany in Scandinavian sagas or in the writings of Roman historians and the only myths of origin preserved by direct transmission are those of the expatriate, more or less de-Germanized, Stämme [tribes]—the Goths, Lombards, Burgundians, Angles and Saxons’ (1974:74).


Myths, for Herder were the authentic markers of the differences in, and incommensurability of national narratives (1841:2). However, Herder, in classic deist mode, also maintained that myths serve as a medium through which the common origins of humanity—the site of the original creation of Humanität—could be recovered. He outlined his recuperative project in Book X of the first volume of the Ideen, further elaborating it in the second volume (published in 1785) and concluding that the site of origin, the homeland (Urheimat) of humanity was in Central Asia or Tibet (1803:518). The notion of an Urheimat accumulated enormous significance in the formulation of German identity, particularly as a way of resisting the cosmopolitanism of Enlightenment philosophy and of rivalling the asserted Graeco-Roman pedigree of other European nations. I will return to Herder’s impact on German nationalism in Chapters 4–7, but I first want to consider the early genealogy of the idea of the Urheimat in order to explain why it gained particular resonance for the German people in the nineteenth century, and to explore further why it played such a strong role in their imaginings of nation.






I. William Jones and the ‘Discovery’ of Sanskrit

In a now famous statement to the Asiatic Society of Calcutta in 1786, the linguist and colonial administrator Sir William Jones (1746–1794) announced his discovery of the lexical and structural affinities between Sanskrit, Latin and Greek which he argued suggested a common origin for the language group, along with Gothic and Celtic (1807, III:34–35). Three years later, similarly to Herder, he extended his theory to suggest that the original homeland of this primordial linguistic community was Central Asia. In contrast to Herder, however, Jones’ theory of linguistic affiliations posited Asian origins not for all humankind, but for one large and important language family, of which German was a part. Nonetheless, and very importantly, for both Herder and Jones, common linguistic origins indicated common ethnic unity. Their location of the original people in Central Asia was largely influenced by a literal reading of the Biblical narrative of Noah, derived from Genesis 8:4 which relates how Noah’s ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, believed by biblical scholars of the time to be located in Armenia. Jones differed slightly in that he considered that the location for Noah’s story and the events of the Tower of Babel which followed the Flood (Genesis 11) were

described as having happened between the Oxus and Euphrates, the mountains of the Caucus and the borders of India, that is within the limits of Iran…it is no longer probable only, but absolutely certain, that the whole race of man proceeded from Iran, whence they migrated at first in three great colonies; and that those three branches grew from a common stock.


There is no evidence to suggest that Herder’s and Jones’ theories of origin were influenced by each other or that they conferred with each other. For Lincoln, the concurrence of their strikingly similar conclusions is explained by their ‘common preconceptions based on their reading of the Bible’ (1999:54). 1 Thomas Trautmann, who

1 See Lincoln 1999:76–100; 2002, and Bryant 2001:14–18 for a full summary of Jones’ discovery and its relationship to common scriptural understandings of the history of races. See also David 1996 for an analysis of Jones’ Indian scholarship and its relationship to ‘Biblical Orientalism’. S. N. Mukherjee 1968 is also helpful for an overview of Jones’ Indological scholarship within the context of British colonial rule.


prioritises the ethnological character of Jones work against his contributions to Orientalist philology, also suggests that Jones’ ‘entire project’ offers a ‘rational defense of the Bible out of the materials collected by Orientalist scholarship, more specifically a defense of the Mosaic account of human history in its earliest times’ (1999:42; see also Bryant 2001:14–18). Herder was similarly committed to the Biblical account and admired Hebraic narratives, as his Vom Geist der Ebräischen Poesie demonstrated. Jones—all the while claiming loyalty to methodological disinterestedness and a commitment to the scholarly principles of objectivity 2 —was concerned that his work should not be used as a weapon by those who doubted the authenticity of the Biblical account of origins, stating that ‘either the first eleven chapters of Genesis…are true, or the whole fabrick of our national religion is false, a conclusion which none of us, I trust, would wish to be drawn’ (1788:225). 3

2 For example, when taking up the challenge to investigate Hindu chronologies that hinted at the world’s immense antiquity, all of which were at considerable variance with that formulated by Bishop Ussher (1581–1656) who had suggested a creation date of 4004 BCE with Noah’s flood occurring in 2349 BCE, Jones stated that his intention was to ‘lay before you a concise history of Indian chronology extracted from Sanskrit books, attached to no system, and as much disposed to reject Mosaik history, if it be proved erroneous, as to believe it, if it be confirmed by sound reason from indubitable evidence’ (1790:111). However, an earlier statement revealed that he regarded biblical veracity as unassailable: ‘I…am obliged of course to believe the sanctity of the venerable books [of the Bible]’ (1788:225). He concluded his research into Indian chronologies by tracing the founding of its civilisation to c. 2000 BCE (1790:145), that is, well within Ussher’s creation date. However, as Trautmann notes, this was only achieved by ignoring the many Indian chronologies that indicated huge time spans offered by the yuga, kalpa, and manvantara systems (1997:58). The impetus to reassert the historicity of the Old Testament chronology was the direct result of European colonial expansion and the consequent discovery that many non-European cultures possessed genealogical lists and creation accounts that pointed to the vast antiquity of the earth. Moreover, the proliferation of ‘hard’ archaeological and geological evidence had joined with the scepticism of the Enlightenment iconoclasts to generate a radical reappraisal of biblical veracity in matters of chronology and creation. Bryant maintains that issues such as ‘the monogenic descent from Adam, the evolution of language from the monolingual descendants of Noah, and the brief period that seemed to be allotted to the dispersion of the human race after the Flood became the subjects of intense debates’. He further suggests that as the early British scholars in India began to unearth Sanskrit texts the origins of the world ‘became the cause of both great anticipation and epistemological anxiety’ (2001:14). These concerns are discussed below.

3 Trautmann suggests, therefore, that one of the main reasons why Jones, and British scholars more generally (at least up until the early nineteenth century), were so interested in Sanskrit was that it provided independent verification of Biblical narrative, for example, the flood myth as related in the Padma Purā a and Bhāgavata Purā a. Jones connected Noah with the sage Manu in the story in the Bhāgavata Purā a where Manu is warned by Vi u (in his incarnation as a fish) of an impending world flood. Manu and seven sages embark on a boat which is fastened to a horn on the fish, and they are towed to safety on top of a mountain. When the flood subsides the world is created anew. While the parallels between the two narratives are indeed striking, Jones used them to affirm the primacy of the Biblical account (1799a:241–2). In other words, Jones saw the Bhāgavata Purā a’s account to be derived from the Mosaic account and to be, furthermore, a distorted version (recalling the deist view of mythology during the Enlightenment) a fact reflected in his belief that in Hindu mythology ‘[h]istorical, or natural, truth [Biblical narrative] has been


The idea of a common source for all languages—initially considered to be Hebrew—which was regularly associated with a common people, was taken for granted by most scholars in Europe until well after the Enlightenment. The basic point of departure for reflections on the origins of mankind, again owing much to the biblical version of history, was the belief that the human races descended from the three sons of the Biblical patriarch Noah as narrated in Genesis 9 and 10: Ham, Shem, and Japheth, to whom there was occasionally added a fourth brother, Jenithon or Manithon (Poliakov 1974:7). 4 As such it was an account which clearly implied patrilineal descent. This theme (that of a posited origin for humanity from a common source), even when stripped of its biblical trappings, was to remain thoroughly imprinted in European scholarship until well into the twentieth century. The dominant tendency (despite numerous variations), from which Jones departed, was to attribute the parentage of the European people to the children of Japheth, the Asians to those of Shem, and the Africans to those of Ham. Jones was particularly interested in the genealogy of the people of Asia, dividing them into five principal ethnic groupings: Indians, Chinese, Tartars, Arabs, and Persians (Trautmann 1997:41). 5 Jones argued, on the basis of linguistic evidence, that the Persians

perverted into fable by ignorance, imagination, flattery, or stupidity’ (1799a:230). Intriguingly, following Jones’ death in 1794, an impressive statue of him was installed in the central vestibule of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It depicts him, toga-clad, resting his arm on a book which is titled after his translation of the Mānava Dharmaśāstra (Translation of the Institutes of Menu [sic.]). Beneath the pedestal is a pivotal scene from the Hindu myth of the churning of the ocean, depicting a pantheon of Indian divinities, and showing the retrieval of a rainbow from the ocean. As Trautmann remarks, ‘It is all quite astonishing to find this scene from Hindu scriptures, not to speak of graven images of Vi u and other gods, in a Christian church’ (1997:79–80). While those who commissioned the statue surely intended simply to acknowledge Jones’ role in discovering proof for the veracity of the Christian scriptures, in that the rainbow is symbolic of God’s promise to Noah never again to flood the earth, the result is quite the reverse. The Hindu ‘other’ has penetrated the sacred space of the colonising subject, and while it seemingly provides the (evidential) platform upon which Europeans could construct their self-sustaining narratives as guardians of the ‘truth’, it rather undermines it. 4 See Genesis 9:19–27; 10:32. Josephus interpreted these injunctions to indicate that the descendants of Shem populated ‘Asia to the Indian Ocean’ and that the sons of Japheth advanced ‘in Asia to the river Tanaïs [the Don] and in Europe to Gadeïra [Cadiz]’ (1998, VI:1–4, 36–43). The Church Fathers, who had read Josephus, attributed the peopling of Africa to Ham. Shem, marked in Genesis by his privileged link to the eternal Elohim, received Asia. Japheth, whose Hebraic name evokes ‘beauty’ as well as ‘openness’, the ‘wide space’ of a legacy capable of ‘dilation’ and ‘expansion’, was the father of Europe. For the readers of the Septuagint the etymological fiction of a ‘Euru-opa’, meaning ‘wide vision’ served to confirm the providential ambition of this continent which ‘sees far’ (eurus, ops). See Olender 1994:10. 5 The potential consequences of Jones’ promotion of this schema are themselves worth reflecting on. Lincoln points to some of the problematic undercurrents present in Jones’ racial taxonomy, suggesting that ‘the overarching project of [Jones’] “Anniversary Discourses” was to reduce the degree to which the Hebrews were privileged above all others….For all that there is something liberating, humane, and admirable in Jones’ having championed the peoples of Asia, one also perceives troubling aspects to his project, one motive of which was ressentiment of the privilege


and the Chinese were probably branches of the Indian race and concluded, therefore, that the Indians, Arabs, and Tartars were most likely to be original stock. He then identified each of these with one of the sons of Noah: the Indians with Ham, the Arabs with Shem, and the Tartars with Japheth. 6 Jones was not the first to suggest a common origin for the languages of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and other European languages, and for the related people groups. From the sixteenth century onwards something approaching a systematic comparison of the languages of India, Greek, and Latin had developed, aided by contact with native populations through the spice trade and the proselytising mission of the Jesuits (see Schwab 1984:26–33). The Jesuit missionary Père Gaston Coeurdoux (1691–1779) suggested in a memoir written in 1767, known to the members of the Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres but not published until 1808, 7 that

Japheth…bringing with him a third of humanity…headed toward the West….His seven children no doubt became the heads of as many great families, each one of which must have spoken one of the new original languages, such as Latin, Greek, Slavonic, etc. May I be permitted to add to these Sanskrit (samskroutam); it is as deserving as any other language, given its extensive reach, to be numbered among the primitive languages.

(in Anquetil-Duperron 1808:664) 8

Furthermore, he made a clear connection with ‘Mosaic ethnology’ (see Trautmann 1997:9) when he argued that

the Sa skroutam language is that of the ancient Brahmes; they came to India from the north of that country, from Caucasia, from Tartary …. Of the sons of Japhet, some spoke Sa skroutam. Before their total separation, their languages were somewhat mixed because of the communication they had among each other; and there remain vestiges of that ancient intercourse, in the common words which still exist.

accorded to Israelite history, religion, and Scripture. Particularly dangerous was his reduction of human diversity to three primal categories and the scholarly cum mythic narrative through which he sought to redistribute privilege from one racialized group to another….For just as Jones renamed the sons of Shem and Ham the “Arabian” and “Hindu” races and then crafted a narrative that made them nearly equal, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, others would rename the same groups “Aryans” (or Indo-Europeans) and “Semites” in narratives that trumpeted ever more shrilly the racial superiority of the conquering state-founders over the authors of the Bible’ (2002:16–17). That this indeed occurred in the context of the rise of German nationalism and the articulation of the German people’s belief in their Aryan identity is a point I will return to Chapter 7.

6 Jones here went against the traditional way of distributing humankind’s ancestry amongst the three sons of Noah. Trautmann suggests that a potential reason for this is that Jones derived the basis of his speculations from the conclusions of Jacob Bryant (1715–1804) and he also sets out the details of Jones’ scheme (2004:42–47).

7 The text was published by Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (1731–1805) as Mémoires de Littérature, tires des registres de l’Académie Royale des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres. See Schwab 1934 and 1984:26–27 for an overview of Anquetil’s role in establishing ‘oriental’ studies.

8 See also Olender 1994:20.


(in Trautmann 1997:54). 9

For Coeurdoux, therefore, rather than being descendants of Ham (as Jones was later to suggest), the Indian race was derived from Magog, son of Japheth. Coeurdoux, in investigating the structural correspondences between Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, therefore proposed a ‘Japhethic solution’ which brought together Europe and a newly mobilised East (Olender 1994:20). The affinities between Sanskrit and ancient European languages were also suspected by a number of British scholars prior to Jones’ announcement, for example, John Zephaniah Holwell (1711–1798), Nathaniel Halhed (1751-1830), Alexander Dow (c. 1710–1779), and James Parsons (1705–1770). 10 Jones was also not unique in suggesting an extinct original language from which the languages of Latin, Greek, et al. were derived. In 1688, prior to the ‘discovery’ of Sanskrit, Andreas Jäger (d. 1731) had speculated that

An ancient language, once spoken in the distant past in the area of the Caucasus mountains and spreading by waves of migration throughout Europe and Asia…ceased to be spoken and…left no linguistic monuments behind, but…as a “mother” generated a host of “daughter languages…[D]escendants of the ancestral language include Persian, Greek, Italic,…the Slavonic languages, Celtic, and finally Gothic.

(in Metcalf 1974:233).

However, it was ‘Jones’ status and reputation…[that] ensured that news of this language connection reverberated through the academic halls of Europe’ (Bryant 2001:16; see also Muller 1986 and Metcalf 1974). In addition to theories of an original language, the theory of a common origin for all humankind was one that had long been a topic of speculation amongst European scholars and theologians, certainly for some centuries before the eighteenth century, and it was, once more, derived from a literal reading of the Bible. Prior to the building of the Tower of Babel as detailed in Genesis 11:1–9, in the Garden of Eden the human race was believed to have spoken the same language, a direct correlation being made between a unified common language— assumed to be Hebrew 11 —and a unified common race of people.

9 See also Godfrey 1967 and Arlotto 1969.

10 See Bryant 2001:14–16; Trautmann 1997:30–31; Schwab 1984:33–34; 149–51. Despite the varied conclusions of these earlier scholars, Jones largely succeeded, at least initially, in staving off challenges to biblical truth, effectively ensuring, as Trautmann notes, that ‘the new admiration for Hinduism would reinforce Christianity and not work for its overthrow’ (1997:74).

11 Augustine (354–430), for example, had favoured the idea that Hebrew was the original human language in his City of God (XVI:11, 1, 222) although Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330–394) disagreed, as did Theoderet of Cyrrhus (c. 393–466), insisting instead that it was more likely to have been Syriac (Olender 1992:1). The subsequent diversification of languages was seen to have lead to the scattering of people throughout the world. See also Bryant 2001:16; Schwab 1984:168–170.


II. The Sons of Noah and Biblical Ethnology

It was during the Renaissance that the debate regarding the original ‘paradisiacal’ or ‘Edenic’ language had first become a matter of intense scholarly interest, with numerous, and quite far-fetched claims being made by people who wished to assert their own ancestors’ language as the language of Eden, although these attempts were often met with scepticism and derision. For example, in 1688 the Swedish scholar Andreas Kempe (1622–1689) published his satirical tract, The Languages of Paradise, in Hamburg in which he noted the farcical aspects of the contest to populate Eden with a variety of native tongues. After discussing the learned works of his compatriots Georg Stiernhielm (1598–1672) and Olaus Rudbeck (1630–1702), Kempe told how ‘the voluptuous Eve’ conspired with a beguiling satanic serpent speaking French. Maurice Olender amusingly describes Kempe’s caricature as featuring, ‘besides the francophone serpent, a Danish-speaking Adam and a Swedish-speaking God’ (1992:2). An exemplary case of this widespread European tendency towards partisan linguistic speculation is clear in the writings of the Flemish physician Jan van Gorp or Geropius Becanus (1518–1572), published as Origines Antwerpianae in 1569 (see Metcalf 1974:233–257 and Grafton 1991:99–101). As Olender argues, for Becanus, working in a context of tensions between Catholics and Protestants as well as one where the languages of French and Spanish were privileged over Flemish and Dutch in the Low Countries, his promotion of early Flemish as the original language was intended as a form of resistance. Becanus affirmed ‘Cimbrian’, the ancestor of Dutch, as ‘the primordial language from which Hebrew derived’ through a tortuous series of speculative etymologies, associating Gomer, Japheth’s first son with Cimbri and the Cimmerians (1994:13). 12 Here Becanus draws a relationship between Flemish and Mosaic ethnology and linguistic speculation, and he used it to secure a place for Flemish as the primogenia with the concomitant demotion of Hebrew as a later, less transparent language. After Becanus, the use of etymological proofs became a standard mode of argumentation for establishing the non-oriental, that is, non-Semitic, dimensions of the origins of Europe. 13 Later linguistic scholars generally dismissed Becanus’ clearly

12 See Olender 1994:13–17 for a discussion of Becanus’ etymological logic. 13 It is instructive to reflect on the term ‘etymology’, the study of word-origins, in order to understand how it is and was considered, most certainly during the Renaissance, to be the most straightforward and reliable method for tracing the origins of words, and therefore to offer insight into their ‘true’ or at least essential, meaning: origin signified essence which signified truth. The


partisan position, retaining Hebrew as the source of biblical revelation and as the first language of human thought, but they began to insist, by deriving European ancestry from Japheth, on a unique and important role for European languages (Olender 1994:16). As Olender contends, ‘by playing with words, Becanus contributed to the formation of a mode of lexical manipulation which gave rise to new forms of linguistic comparativism’ (ibid.); this was to prove influential on a number of later linguists and philosophers such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716). One further example of speculative linguistic bias is that of Adriaen van Scrieck (fl. 1614), a Belgian scholar, who argued that while Hebrew was in all likelihood the original language, the lingua Iaphetica was a ‘neighbor language’, emerging swiftly after the Babelian dispersion with the same transparent features as ‘Adamic speech’ and was therefore a ‘second’ mother tongue, grouped as ‘Scythian, Celtic, Teutonic, Belgian, Danish, and northern’ (Olender 1994:16). He proposed that the people (the Scythians) who spoke this language had occupied all of Europe as a result of their migratory excursions and he derived what was a patently fabricated etymology for the word ‘Europe’ from his creative imagining of their migratory ‘cries’: over, op, an (‘over, on, toward’) which he translated as ‘oultre, plus oultre’ (‘farther, farther still’). These calls mutate, in van Scrieck’s work, to become euver-op, uber-op, over-op and finally, europ. Thus he is able to conclude that ‘Europe is a Belgian and virile name’ (1994:17).

English term ‘etymology’ is derived from the French étymologie which is a borrowing of the Latin etymologia, which in turn is borrowed from the Greek etumologia, a compound of etumos meaning ‘true’ or ‘real’ and logos meaning ‘word’ or ‘speech act’. In this way ‘etymology’ (as a term, but also as a practice) refers to its own origin, thus its truthful nature: its rhetorical circularity is revealed in the promotion of etymology as the original truth of a term which can then be wielded to derive an origin which in its very nature as an origin (as essence) is considered to be more truthful than later variations. According to Marian Rothstein, during the Renaissance ‘the identifiable (or identified) source of a thing was generally taken as a principle defining the way it was to be understood and classified. Sources, origins, were thus perceived as guides to how a thing was to be regarded and how it could be expected to perform’ (1990:333). She further suggests that the prevalence of writings on the moment of Creation (within a biblical frame) within a large number of Renaissance texts, along with a broader preoccupation with the origins of things, peoples, languages, and so on, indicates a concern for retrieving a ‘principle of coherence without, for all that, being a limiting force pulling backward toward an authorizing source or imposing a closed system….Inasmuch as they remain active, origins are a potential source of energy available to texts, institutions, things, or people; inasmuch as they are transmissable, origins are empowering’ (1990:346). Another important aspect of etymology therefore is the sense in which it purports to retrieve and preserve the source, securing it for the present, and thus appropriating its quality of truth and its authority, one that has important implications for the qualities of truth and legitimacy that origins in general are believed to offer. It is ironic, of course, to seek an etymology for ‘etymology’ in order to demonstrate its essential meaning. The search for the essential truth through recourse to an origin is a theme to which I will return in detail Chapters 8 and 9, and one which is a central preoccupation of this thesis. See also Slaughter 1992.


The ‘Scythian hypothesis’ in its assertion of an original linguistic community for Europe on a par with Hebrew held sway for several generations of scholars, 14 but after Jones’ announcement of the lexicographical affiliations between the languages of Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, the focus shifted to the theorisation of what became known as the ‘Indo-European hypothesis’. 15 The hypothesis was thought to provide a scientifically authoritative means—given the promotion of philology as a ‘science’, predicated on its forms of analysis, ability to provide objective ‘proofs’ of linguistic interrelationship, and appropriation of botanical metaphors—for explaining the origins and evolution of European languages without recourse to Hebrew. Before I discuss in more detail the development of the Indo-European hypothesis I would note here that, in spite of Jones’ dedication to the truth of biblical narratives, deist ideas and the anti-clericalism of the Enlightenment received new impetus from Jones’ work. The ancient religion of the Sanskrit Vedas seemed to suggest religious and ritual forms that conformed to a pure and untainted natural religion, on a par with, if not better than, Hebraic monotheism. In the light of Jones’ discovery it therefore seemed increasingly implausible—and undesirable—that the European languages were derived from Hebrew or that the Jewish religion was unique in its divine provenance. Thus, as Olender has suggested, ‘[b]y the eighteenth century…all the preconditions were present for a discovery that the ancestors of the Europeans, like the common ancestor of their languages, had been independent of Semitic influence’ (1994:5). As I have shown, the prerequisites for the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century enthusiasm for linguistic and racial origins (and the consequent conflation of race and language) were being set in place for a long time prior to Jones’ discovery, and the further combination of deist musings on natural religion and the Enlightenment

14 There were a few detractors who tried to demonstrate the fundamental kinship of French and Hebrew. See Olender 1994:18–19.

15 Although the term ‘Indo-European’ was only coined in 1816 by the linguist Thomas Young (1773–1829), the debate regarding what to call the original language raged from the date of Jones’ announcement onwards (Bryant 2001:20). A number of nomenclatures were suggested, among them ‘European’, ‘Sarmatian’ and—unsurprisingly—‘Japhetic’, but it was ‘Indo-European’ that eventually won the day. In Germany, the preference was for ‘Indo-German’, first suggested by the Danish geographer Conrad Malte-Brun (1755–1826) in 1810 and then promoted on a larger scale by the German orientalist Julius Klaproth (1783–1835) in 1823. Justification for the adoption of the term ‘Indo-German’ was offered, as Bryant notes, ‘on the grounds that these two languages encapsulated the entire Indo-European-speaking area—the farthest language to the east being Indic, and to the west, Germanic’ (Bryant 2001:20). Although the adoption of ‘Indo-German’ was resisted by non-German scholars and Franz Bopp also objected to its use on the grounds that ‘Indo-European’ was more politically neutral and less partisan, it still continues to be used amongst some scholars in Germany today (ibid.). I will trace the popularity of the term ‘Indo- German’ in Chapter 7.


rejection of biblical veracity—in spite of Jones’ insistence on the Sanskritic confirmation of key biblical narratives—ensured an eventually definitive break with both biblical chronology and the consequent need to assert any direct line of inheritance with the Jewish tradition. The Indo-European theories of linguistic origins nonetheless took a common source for granted because it confirmed theories of natural religion. Two connected discourses of differentiation are apparent here: firstly, the desire of earlier philosophes such as Voltaire was to draw a clear-cut and final distinction between history (as formulated in his Enlightenment vision of the origin of universal history in the Far East or India) and myth (as represented by the erroneous version of providential history provided by the Bible, particularly as it pertained to Edenic origins), and Jones’ discovery reinforced this difference; secondly, a growing distinction emerged between the European races, who could now source their Japhethic origins as Asiatic or ‘Indo-European’, and those of Semitic origin. The displacement of Semitic origins from their previously privileged position served as a prerequisite for the proposal and valorisation of Indo-European origins as well as the reassertion of Enlightenment scepticism towards mythical narratives such as those found in the Bible. In both cases, however, as I have shown this drive to determine the identity and nature of the first language of humanity—the origin—was nonetheless rooted in the biblical or ‘Semitic’ tradition of Edenic origins. While the situation was contradictory, as Olender observes, it nonetheless

represented the culmination of a historiographical effort of aiming to discover for itself splendid ancestors in an East purged of all Semitism; [philologists] favored the idea of a West superior to all other civilizations, but were nonetheless able to identify themselves with the actors of a providential history whose rules were decreed, once and for all, by biblical revelation.


III. Language and Homeland: The Indo-European Hypothesis

Progress in Indo-European linguistics, post-Jones, was so rapid that nineteenth-century comparative philologists increasingly believed that the identification of the source of the Indo-European family of languages (Ursprache: ‘original’ or ‘first language’ which was designated as ‘Proto-Indo-European’) would be possible, unlike the more cautious Jones who had refrained from asserting its identity with too much certainty, (1807:34). The optimism of these comparativists was sanctioned initially by an unquestioning appeal to


a family tree model (Stammbaum), 16 which assumed monogenetic origin, through the

assertion of a direct analogy with the taxonomic schema of botanists and, after the mid- nineteenth century, with Charles Darwin’s theories of the evolution of species. Trautmann suggests, correctly in my view, that the adoption of the Stammbaum analogy was a way for linguists to sidestep the biblical basis of their concern with linguistic origins (1997:57). Foucault’s concept of the épistèmé is useful here for understanding the recourse

to botanical metaphor as a familiar and frequently employed trope for tracing the ‘order

of things’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Didier Eribon describes Foucault’s notion of épistèmé as follows:

every period is characterised by an underground configuration that delineates its culture, a grid of knowledge making possible every scientific discourse, every production of statements….Each science develops within the framework of an épistèmé, and therefore is linked in part with other sciences contemporary with it.


Thus, for Foucault, the conceptual frameworks, assumptions, and methods within certain fields of knowledge during the Classical period, which he defines roughly from the mid-seventeenth century to the early nineteenth century (1970:xxii), shared ways of thinking and organised their knowledge relations around a series of ‘similitudes’ (convenentia, aemulatio, analogy, and sympathy; 1970:17–25):

it was resemblance that largely guided exegesis and the interpretation of texts; it was resemblance that organised the play of symbols, made possible knowledge of things visible and invisible and controlled the art of representing them. The universe was folded in upon itself: the earth echoing the sky, faces seeing themselves reflected in the stars, and plants holding within their stems secrets that were of use to man. Painting imitated space. And representation…was positioned as a form of repetition; the theatre of life or the mirror of nature, that was the claim made of all languages, its manner of declaring its existence and of formulating its right of speech.


16 August Schleicher (1821–1868) formalised this tree model in 1861, tracing family relationships between the Iranian languages, Greek, Albanian, and the Celtic, Italic, Balto-Slavic, and Germanic languages. As Trautmann notes, ‘Relations of near and far are calibrated by the branching structures of the family tree, and the whole expresses a conception of the progressive differentiation and radiation across Eurasia of languages from a common ancestral language [Proto-Indo-European]’ (1997:6–7). The Indo-European language group was contrasted to other language groups, nominated as Semitic (including Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, and Amharic) and Hamitic (the languages of North Africa). It was suggested that these language groups once had a remote common source, and that Proto-Indo-European was merely the origin for all subsequent variants within the Indo-European language group. Friedrich Schlegel, whose philological work I will discuss in Chapter 7, also used a botanical metaphor, to distinguish between inflected and agglutinative languages. See Trautmann 1997:7–11 for an important discussion regarding the significance of the adoption of this model, not just for linguistic comparativism, but also for ethnology and biology in the nineteenth century.


While Foucault refers here to a period prior to that which is my concern in this chapter, he does offer a way of understanding the dispersal of the botanical metaphor throughout apparently disparate knowledge productions as rooted in a shared épistèmé; certain shared presuppositions and models serve not only to organise thought, representation, and categorisation, but also delineate what it is possible to think and how. Foucault is at pains, however, to stress the absence of conscious intentionality in this process: ‘unknown to themselves, the naturalists, economists and grammarians, employed the same rules to define the objects proper to their own study’ (1970:xi). Further, he does not want to establish his concept of the épistèmé as marking a teleological, unified framework such as might be understood from the term Zeitgeist (‘spirit of the age’): ‘I do not seek to detect, starting from diverse signs, the unitary spirit of an epoch…a kind of Weltanshauung….[Rather] I have collated different discourses and described their clusters and relations’ (1991a:55). Thus, Foucault’s concept of an épistèmé does not describe a unified body of ideas—or hegemonic worldview—but a set of conflicting discursive frameworks and pressures which operate and interact with each other across a social body, and which condition how people think, know, and write. The particular selection of the family tree model as a reigning metaphor, however, is worth reflecting on further because it was used with such striking regularity to establish systemic knowledge about disparate phenomena like languages, plant species, people groups, and economic units and processes. My own view is that it simultaneously represented a seemingly natural confirmation (with an implication, therefore, of truthfulness) of the obscured genealogical presuppositions of biblical ethnology and, perhaps more opaquely, produced those very presuppositions. The tree model offered a consoling, or at least logically derived, depiction of unity, a single point of origin. It seemed that the very order of nature confirmed the monologic origin of everything under scrutiny. Here I would also like to note the patriarchal utility—and texture—of the model. As I will argue in Chapter 8, the assertion of a singular origin is the fundamental cornerstone of patrilineal ontology within the history of Western metaphysics. Nevertheless, the linguists’ appropriation of the natural sciences to support their linguistic comparativism was also based on the reasonable theory that carefully measured resemblances and differences between the various Indo-European languages could indicate incidents of separation from their common origin. Comparative philologists were convinced that the identification of cognate terms in a significant


number of branches of the Indo-European family, and the consequent extrapolation, following the laws of sound change, of a standard form, could generate a protolexicon. 17 Moreover, underlying this claim was the highly speculative assertion that the growth of each ‘branch’ (each separate language) out of the ‘trunk’ (the lost Ursprache) signified the movement of a people group into a new territory. Linked to the widespread curiosity about the original language of the first humans, therefore, was a related preoccupation with the geographical location of the Urheimat. Thus with the consolidation of the notion of a Proto-Indo-European language—the Ursprache—the hunt was on, not just for the Urheimat, but also for the first people, or Urvolk, who spoke this ancestral tongue. Shared language groupings were correlated with shared geography, 18 which in turn, as I will show in Chapter 7, was correlated with race. As I observed earlier, Jones had initially suggested that the events detailed in Genesis 11—the building of the Tower of Babel and subsequent dispersal of humankind into many different language groupings—had taken place between the Caucasus and Persia. Jones did so on the basis of his belief, discussed above, that ‘the Hebrew narrative is more than human in its origin and consequently true in every substantial part of it’ and it was therefore ‘…no longer probable only, but absolutely certain, that the whole race of man proceeded from Iran whence they migrated at first in three great colonies [those of Ham, Shem, and Japheth];…those three branches grew from a common stock’ (1792:468–487). What is notable about these statements is the way in which Jones, in detailing his ethnological panorama, establishes what became basic philological principles (those of root and branch). In any case the quest for the original homeland soon became a central preoccupation for scholars throughout Europe, particularly those influenced by the romantic formula of the past as a golden age and its coincidence with nascent nationalist movements (as I will discuss in the next chapter). Jones’ discovery provoked a surge of interest in the culture of India, leading, in Britain, to a short period of what Trautmann

17 It was this idea that was taken up later by the philologist Adolphe Pictet (1799–1875) who developed a methodology for ‘linguistic palaeontology’ that could derive such a protolexicon. The essence of Pictet’s approach was to identify shared cognate words found in all branches of a language family that specified elements of material or social culture, such as ‘wheel’ or ‘horse’, which could be used as lexicographical evidence to prove that these items existed in the protoculture of that family. It was thus considered possible not only to establish the rough outlines of the original language, but also to identify the geographical location of the people who used this language. Pictet himself suggested that his mode of analysis pointed to an original homeland in Bactria (present-day Afghanistan). See Bryant 2001:34.

18 Inevitably these geographical speculations also replicated the Mosaic narrative of the dispersion of humankind after Noah, generated from his three sons, and from the Tower of Babel.


refers to as ‘Indomania’ (1997:62–98; see below). India soon displaced modern-day Iran (or Armenia) as the location of choice for the original homeland of the Indo-European race in large part due to Jones’ discovery, alongside the consequent assumption of racial consanguinity. It was not a particularly new idea: Voltaire had earlier posited India as the cradle of civilisation, supported by Jean-Sylvain Bailly (1736–1793) who had suggested as early as 1777 that the earliest humans had come from the banks of the river Ganges: ‘the Brahmans are the teachers of Pythagoras, the instructors of Greece, and through her of the whole of Europe (1777:51). It consequently became the fashion amongst some European intellectuals (see Bryant 2001:18–19) to assert India as the site of the first human race and, in the aftermath of Jones’ discovery, it was a position that initially appeared to have a strong foundation. 19 It seemed reasonable at the time to locate the original homeland in the area that had originated what was considered the oldest language of the group of related languages. Trautmann shows how, until the early part of the nineteenth century, British Orientalists were generally very enthusiastic about the discovery of the kinship between Sanskrit and English (via Latin and Greek) for a number of reasons: the translation of Sanskrit texts seemed to indicate independent verification of biblical historiography as I have already shown; the Indian religious complex as represented in its earliest texts appeared to have preserved the primitive truth of natural religion from which the paganism of Rome and Greece seemed to have been derived; and this kinship between Sanskrit and European languages displaced Semitic religion from its previously hegemonic status, thus relieving Europeans from having to derive their traditions from what was now apparently an alien culture (1997:64). A further reason was related to the means through which the governance of the Indian territories could be best achieved (Trautmann 1997:17). Henry Sumner Maine, for example, suggested ‘that the

19 This was largely because early philologists, unlike Jones, tended to treat Vedic Sanskrit as almost identical to, if not actually the same as, the original Proto-Indo-European due to the antiquity of its textual sources, cultural references, the structure of its grammar, and the extent of its vocabulary. Linguists of the late eighteenth century believed that Sanskrit showed more structural regularity than its cognate languages which, in keeping with the romantic view of cultural degeneration from an original point of perfection, indicated that it was more original than, for example, Greek and the other cognate languages. It was a view lent some support by the developmental view of language theorised in 1689 by John Locke in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1975:433). According to Locke, ‘civilised’ languages were regular in structure and possessed a sophisticated and extensive vocabulary. This was one of the reasons why Jones could assert that Sanskrit was a civilised language (1807, III:34). Friedrich Schlegel, whose work I will examine in this regard in Chapter 7, also suggested, on similar grounds, that ‘the Indian language is older, the others younger and derived from it’ (in Bryant 2001:19). See also Trautmann



government of India by the English has been rendered appreciably easier by the discoveries which have brought home to the educated of both races the common…parentage of Englishman and Hindoo’ (in Trautmann 1997:18–19). The assertion of racial kinship through shared linguistic origins was certainly one way of justifying colonial expansion while pretending that it was a matter of mutual exchange:

where India had once apparently bequeathed Europe its cultural richness, Britain was now repaying its debt by a triumphant return to the homeland, bringing with it the benefits of European civilisation to its distant kin (Bryant 2001:26). Trautmann warns, therefore, against seeing the promotion of Indo-British kinship as having any material substance: ‘British Orientalists devised a theory of their own activities…that involved claims about promoting affection between ruler and ruled and a political rhetoric of love’


By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the tide turned and in the place of British enthusiasm for India a virulent ‘Indophobia’ emerged (Trautmann 1997:99–130), again connected to colonial exigencies and related to the events of the Indian Mutiny (1857). In 1858, as a direct result of the Mutiny, the British sent the last Mughal Emperor into exile in Burma, thus bringing to an end just over three centuries of Mughal rule, and at the same time abolished the British East India Company, replacing it with the direct rule, under the British Crown, of India. As Dilip Chakrabarti, suggests ‘With the Raj firmly established it was the time to begin to visualize the history and cultural process of India as a series of invasions and foreign rules’ (1976:67). This meant that the notion of India as the cradle of civilisation was rejected in favour of an origin elsewhere, probably Central Asia, and that Sanskritic traditions were now considered to be depraved corruptions of an original natural religion which they had previously been held to embody. Trautmann lays the blame for this shift on Charles Grant (1746–1823), whose influential ‘Observations on the Asiatic subjects of Great Britain’ (1796) dismissed any notion of Indian civilisation and made a case for an aggressive policy of Anglicisation in the service of colonial governance. In the aftermath of the Mutiny the idea gained popularity and a good deal of literature depicted contemporary Indians as degenerate, corrupt, and inferior to the British in every respect. 20

20 See Leopold 1974 for a survey of the literature in this period. She suggests that British colonialists oscillated between progressive and cyclical theories of Indo-European consanguinity both of which provided justifications for the extension and formalisation of British colonial rule in the period following the Mutiny. While both theories acknowledged Indo-European ancestry for the British and the northern Indians—Brahmins in particular—progressive ideology, drawing on


This was in marked contrast to the policy of respect and—albeit limited— mutuality cultivated by the earlier British orientalists. A more ‘romantic’ orientalist view did persist amongst some scholars but they were in the minority, most notably Max Müller (1823–1900), a German scholar resident in England, who suggested a common descent for Indians and the British drawn from philological evidence, and who characterised this commonality in terms of racial equality while acknowledging British resistance to the idea (1854a:29–30). It was a view that was treated with a great deal of distaste by some nineteenth-century British scholars and Müller was excoriated for his insistence on racial consanguinity between the British and Indians (see, for example, Legge 1902:710). As Bryant notes, ‘colonial sensibilities made [the British] reluctant to acknowledge any potential cultural indebtedness to the forefathers of the rickshaw pullers of Calcutta and…[they] preferred to hang on to the biblical Adam for longer than their European contemporaries’ (2001:22). Trautmann (1997:165–189) attributes the downfall of an Indian Urheimat to the rise of race science, 21 particularly insofar as it offered a welcome resolution to the dilemma posed by Jones’ discovery (see also Bryant 2001:24–29). The challenge by race science to the notion that India was the original homeland was assisted by the discovery that South Indian languages, referred to as ‘Dravidian’, were not derived from Sanskrit (Bryant 2001:25), and led to the emergence of what became known as the ‘Aryan invasion theory’. 22

evolutionary theories of both a Lamarckian and Darwinian tenor, stressed the idea that the condition of contemporary Indians was one of arrested development, and that the early Indian Aryans had ceased to evolve to the extent that Europeans had for a variety of reasons. It was the responsibility of the British, therefore, to ensure that India received ‘not only new Aryan legal, administrative, social and commercial institutions but also a new religion and the Aryan idea of “progress” and of “history”, which…it had not developed by itself’ (Leopold 1974:599). The cyclical view, characterised by scholars like Max Müller, promoted colonial rule as a kind of ‘family reunion’. An advocate of this point of view was Frederic William Farrar (1831–1903), who suggested that ‘After a separation of 4,000 years, after having traversed an immense circle of the globe, the younger Aryan returns…not solely to rule over the elder…but to teach him…the lessons of a superior wisdom, a purer justice, and a loftier morality—above all, to teach him…Christianity fostered by the Western Aryan peoples’ (1870:144). See also Laing 1862:21.

21 Trautmann argues that the development of comparative philology and ethnology or race science in the nineteenth century ran along parallel and then divergent tracks, although ethnology was initially reliant on philology for its organisational schema, particularly its principles of linguistic categorisation (1997:133–134). See also Stepan (1982) who coined the term ‘race science’ to account for the relationship of ethnology to comparative philology. I will discuss shortly the conflation of the Indo-European hypothesis with notions of the consanguinity of the ‘Aryan’ race.

22 Max Müller is credited with coining the term ‘Aryan’ to refer to the Indo-European family of languages and to its related people groups and with popularising the Aryan invasion theory, although it was in fact the ethnologist James Cowles Prichard (1786–1848) who was one of the first to use it to refer to the racial origins of the Indo-European tribes who were thought by this time to have invaded not only Iran and North India but also Europe (see Prichard 1843). See Trautmann 1997:172–178 for a discussion of Müller’s career as a comparative philologist and proponent of the


In broad outline, as formulated in the nineteenth century, the theory postulated that a race of nomadic warriors known as the Aryans, originating in the Caucasus mountains in Southeastern Europe, invaded Iran and northern India roughly between 2000 and 1500 BCE, the latter being the date favoured by Müller. 23 These invaders were thought to have entered the Indian subcontinent from the mountain passes of the Hindu Kush, bringing with them the domesticated horse and the Vedic religion. This Aryan race either displaced or assimilated the indigenous pre-Aryan peoples, many of whom migrated to the south, with those remaining being relegated to the lower castes of post- Vedic society. The victory of the Aryans was believed to have been rapid and total, resulting in the dominance of Aryan culture and language over the northern part of the subcontinent and in the extension of considerable influence to parts of the south. The initial theory was assembled primarily on linguistic grounds, although these grounds themselves were based on a questionable reading of excerpts from the Vedic corpus and concerned the translation of the term ‘ārya24 and its apparent opposites ‘an-ārya’, ‘dasyu’, and ‘dāsa’. The anglicised term ‘Aryan’, erroneously derived from ‘ārya’ to indicate racial origins, was used interchangeably with ‘Indo-European’ or ‘Indo-Germanic’ particularly towards the end of the nineteenth century. I will return to discuss the use of the term ‘Aryan’ to indicate racial affiliation in Chapter 7. Within the Vedic texts there is no mention of an actual invasion or migration into India, nor is there any reference to a homeland outside of India or any clear references to race or racial appearance. Nonetheless, in nineteenth-century Europe the term ‘Aryan’ was widely employed to produce images of the Indo-Europeans as fair- skinned and dolichocephalic. ‘Dolichocephalic’ was a term invented by the German race scientist Andreas Retzius (1796–1860) to denote long and narrow skulls as opposed to those which are brachycephalic, or broad and short. Dolichocephaly, according to

Aryan invasion theory. This controversial theory is still debated in Indological circles today; see Bryant 1999; Bryant and Patton 2005; Sethna 1992; Schaffer 1984. See Thapar 2000:1108–1140; Guha 1998:430–433 for discussions of the contemporary Indian nationalist challenge to the Aryan invasion theory. 23 Navaratna Rajaram (1995:91–96) argues that Müller arrived at this dating due to a literal reading of the Bible, particularly as it concerned ethnology. 24 The entry for ārya in Monier Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1899) appears thus: ‘a

respectable or honourable or faithful man and inhabitant of Aryavarta; one who is faithful to the religion of that country; name of the race that immigrated from Central Asia into Aryavarta; …someone behaving like an Aryan, worthy of one, honourable, respectable, noble, of a good family; excellent; wise; suitable….’. (Aryavarta here refers to northern India; see Manu 2005, II.21– 22. However, early European readers of the Vedas assumed that terms ‘ārya’ and ‘dāsa’ referred to races of people rather than being simply markers of relative status. See also Trautmann 1997:12–



Retzius, was the distinctive feature of the earliest inhabitants of Europe. 25 The importance of craniology for proponents of the Aryan invasion theory was that because the skulls of Europeans were different from those of the Asian Indo-Europeans, it was possible that Europeans were either indigenous to Europe or had migrated there from a central location (probably Central Asia) and that it had thus been they who had taken Indo-European civilisation to India. As Bryant argues,

What the racial theorists succeeded in doing…was to uncouple the common language bond from the need to identify with the Hindus on any level whatsoever. The Europeans, as a race, were now not required to acknowledge any common racial or even cultural bond with the Hindus….Even the common Indo-European language was presented as being a gift to India from the West….The racial theorists paved the way for the postulate that the Aryans were an autonomous white race who brought civilization and the Sanskrit language to the different races of India.


This reversal of the Indo-European hypothesis provided succour to those who wished to deny an Indian homeland for the European Aryan race. The usefulness of the idea for supporting the ideology of British colonialism as a civilising mission is obvious:

not only did it relieve the British of having to accept kinship with native Indians, it enabled them to represent themselves, in Bryant’s words, as ‘a second wave of Aryans, again bringing a superior language and civilization to the racial descendants of the same natives their forefathers had attempted to elevate so many centuries earlier’ (2001:26), 26 and further, to justify their presence in the subcontinent by building up a picture of the Indians as degenerate and corrupt (see Bryant 2001:26–27). Racial science provided an easy explanation for Aryan Indian regression by suggesting it was a result of miscegenation with the darker race of dāsas. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, therefore, few British scholars were willing to consider India to be the homeland of the Indo-Europeans, or to tolerate claims regarding any kind of kinship (see Müller 1895, I:63–64, 66; II:20; 1847:348; Trautmann 1997:174–175). Bryant argues that this was one of the reasons why Indology was generally neglected in Britain compared to Germany and France (2001:28–29), although Sheldon Pollock suggests that many of the preoccupations

25 The classification of crania was an aspect of nineteenth-century phrenology, a pseudo-science concerned with character analysis based on the theory that the human mind could be divided into thirty-seven faculties each with a distinct location in the brain. Although initially framed as a key to understanding individual psychology, the phrenological system soon became applied as a theory of racial difference. See Gould 1981, Cooter 1985, and Egerton 1995. 26 Max Müller certainly cast the British ‘civilising mission’ in these terms when he suggested that ‘it is curious to see how the [English] descendants of the same race, to which the first conquerors and masters of India belonged, return, after having followed the northern development of the Japhetic race to their primordial soil, to accomplish the glorious work of civilization, which had been left unfinished by their Arian brethren’(1847:349)


of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century German discourse on Indo-European racial and linguistic origins were possibly bequeathed by the earlier eighteenth-century ‘sympathetic’ British orientalism (1993:83), a point to which I will return in Chapter 7. Although race science quickly achieved a position of pre-eminence in the European preoccupation with its origins, comparative philology continued to make its mark in the debate. The German philologist Franz Bopp (1791–1867) demonstrated that Sanskrit itself was derived from an earlier tongue and he stated that he did not

believe that Greek, Latin, and other European languages are to be considered as derived from the Sanskrit….I feel rather inclined to consider them altogether as subsequent variations of one original tongue, which, however, the Sanskrit has preserved more perfect than its kindred dialects.

(in Bryant 2001:19)

Bopp’s proposal thus further contributed to what became the wholesale rejection, at least initially outside of Germany, of India as the Urheimat. By the end of the nineteenth century the notion that India had been the original homeland was almost entirely discredited and a European homeland was, in some circles, established in its place, a development I discuss in Chapter 7. Regardless of the competing claims over the location of the original homeland, the concept of the Urheimat as articulated by Herder, Jones, and others gave a sense of urgency to German speculations regarding the Urvolk and the Ursprache in a way that was markedly different to other European countries, particularly Britain. It fuelled a nostalgia for origins that became enmeshed in the politics of German identity and nationalism from the early nineteenth century onwards. Furthermore, it provided fertile ground for a renewed articulation of anti-Semitism built upon a discourse of differentiation that separated the European Aryans from the Semitic Jews. I will examine the consolidation of this particular discourse of differentiation in the context of German romanticism and nationalism in Chapter 7. However, the roots of this discourse lie in the nascent nationalism of nineteenth-century Germany which is my concern in the following chapter and it is there that all the narrative threads of the search for German identity and the wider preoccupation with origins in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, presented so far, will begin to come together. The German discovery of, and enthusiasm for, Tacitus’ portrayal of the ancient Germanic tribes and their hero Arminius, Herder’s promotion of Völkisch narrative as an authentic source for securing national identity, the broader European theorisation of the original language and homeland, the consequent break with Hebraic genealogy, and the deist influence on notions of natural religion and the original state of humanity all combined, in the


German context of romantic and nationalist discourse, to produce a definitive discursive differentiation between Aryans and Semites upon which Germanic cultural—if not immediately political—unification could be conceived and enacted.





In the historical context of the derogation of German identity outlined earlier in Chapter 2, there could hardly have been a more timely argument for the primacy of German language and culture than Jones’ Indo-European hypothesis. I earlier argued that the formulation of a stable and unified German identity in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was a matter of increasing urgency, precipitated by the Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802) and an expansive French ideological imperialism, but with much longer antecedents in the context of the Holy Roman Empire’s resistance to papal hegemony. The fifteenth-century discovery of Tacitus’ writings on the ancient Germans by the German humanists provided a primary source for asserting a noble pedigree in parity with the Graeco-Roman legacy of other European nations. Moreover, it served as a template of autochthonous Germanic virtues and racial purity; when affiliated with the Indo-European hypothesis it gained additional legitimacy as I will return to show in Chapter 7. The assertion of this ancient pedigree was given further support by Herder’s theories regarding the function of indigenous languages and myths in forming and preserving the essential and authentic characteristics of the Volk:

Germany was thus charged, by Herder, with seeking its past—and future—in its vernacular literary and oral traditions and in its landscape in order to cultivate a sense of its own prestige and nobility. It was in the nineteenth century that a concerted effort of retrieval began and it was one that was closely tied to an emergent nationalist project—the result of French aggression—that sought the unification of the diverse German territories on the basis of shared cultural traditions and to romanticism as an ideology of cultural regeneration. In this chapter, therefore, I am mainly concerned with examining the emergence of nationalist sentiment in nineteenth-century Germany and its very close relationship to the work of scholars within the German romantic movement. I begin the chapter in section I by surveying a variety of frameworks suggested by contemporary scholars of nationalism in order to derive a model in which to understand German nationalism as a predominantly cultural phenomenon and to examine the ways in which ideas about


gender, race, and class were connected to its vision of the form that the unified nation was to take. I then discuss in section II how German nationalism in this period was oriented towards the retrieval of Germany’s noble origins—characterised as a golden age of German achievement—as a means of ameliorating the turmoil that resulted from aggressive French expansion into the German territories in the early years of the nineteenth century. The growth of German nationalism during this period, and its questions regarding the intrinsic characteristics of Germanic identity, assumed a heuristic cogency when combined with German nationalist resistance against French imperialism in the aftermath of the Napoleonic invasions (1803–1812), surveyed briefly below, and with a nascent romantic programme of cultural regeneration. In section III of this chapter, therefore, I will sketch the romantic movement as it developed in Germany during the same period and trace its decisive role in shaping the direction of the growing nationalist movement towards an initially aesthetic, and then political formulation of German identity. In section IV I examine an important early strand of romantic thought—synthesis—that prompted a call for a national mythology based on aesthetic principles of fusion. This ‘new mythology’ was part of a nationalist agenda concerned with uniting the German people under a banner of shared cultural traditions. Myth in this context was seen to be the unificatory medium through which the Germans would be recalled to their glorious past and which would ensure an equally glorious future. The purpose of the chapter is thus twofold: (1) to situate German nationalism within a theoretical framework that can explain its emergence and form; and (2) to provide a historical background to the revival of folklore and myth that characterised German romantic nationalism throughout the nineteenth century which I then explore in the following two chapters.

I. Models of Nationalism

The origins and character of nationalism, and conceptions of what constitutes a nation state, have been characterised by scholars as having two main forms: civic/political or ethnic/cultural nationalism. 1 Civic nationalism has been associated with the constitution

1 Anthony D. Smith and Hutchinson are the main theorists of ethnic nationalism and Gellner and Breuilly represent the civic view. David Brown prefers the term ‘cultural’ nationalism over ‘ethnic’ nationalism in order to avoid the ‘biological connotations’ that have been attached to the term ‘ethnic’ (1999:282) and Kearney uses the term ‘ethno-cultural’ for similar reasons (1997:1–22). Hutchinson distinguishes the two forms of nationalism as ‘political’ and ‘cultural’ (1994b:122). In my view his terminology is preferable as it demonstrates a broad appreciation of the ways in which ‘ethnic’ nationalism also invoked other forms of cultural unity either alongside or in


of the nation state on the basis of the social contract 2 where the possession of political and legal rights and duties both define individuals’ membership of the nation and establish them as citizens of the state. Examples of the civic form of nationalism are Britain and France, both of which conceived of the nation as inevitably connected to concepts of state and government. Cultural nationalism, on the other hand, bases its nation-building efforts on the assumption of shared cultural traditions, a common inheritance from the past, and is essentially backward-looking, leading Nairn to characterise these two forms of nationalism as ‘Janus-faced’ (1997:67, 71–72). Civic and cultural nationalisms are most obviously differentiated in terms of the way membership of a nation is construed and in the relationship of nation and state. Membership of a civic nation is achieved through political processes of assimilation whereas the cultural nation is conceived by its members as having a prior existence to the state where membership is unconditional and exclusive (Nieguth 1999:157–158; see also Guibernau 1996:3). According to Hutchinson, civic nationalists have as their ideal ‘a civic polity of educated citizens united by common laws and mores like the polis of classical antiquity’ whereas cultural nationalists ‘reject the ideal of universal citizenship rights of political nationalism’ and ‘demand that the natural divisions within the nation—sexual, occupational, religious and regional—be respected, for the impulse to differentiation is the dynamo of national creativity’ (1994:122). The most obvious example of cultural nationalism is the case of Germany in the nineteenth century, particularly as articulated by romantic intellectuals, which I will explore in more detail shortly. Here, Herder’s conception of the Volk proved influential in suggesting that a nation was not a socio-political construct but was rather an organic concept that articulated the homogeneity and unity of the Volk connected through shared traditions, language, culture, religion, and myths. 3 Towards the end of the nineteenth century,

contrast to the racial basis of collective unity in order to sanction its conception of the nation state. Civic and ethnic forms of nationalism have also been described as functionalist/modernist, where nations are seen to be the product, rather than the cause, of state-formation along civic lines (see Gellner 1983; Hobsbawm 1985; Nairn 1981), and primordialist/essentialist where nations are viewed as natural phenomena defined through an organic bond between people and territory (see Anthony D. Smith 1998). A third way that nationalisms have been distinguished is as either ‘individualist’ or ‘collectivist’, both of which mirror the distinction between civic and ethnic/cultural nationalisms (see Kohn 1960 and Greenfeld 1992).

2 As such, the civic model is derived from Rousseau’s notion of the ‘social contract’ (1947 [1762]) which ascribes primacy to the state with regard to the formation of nations: ‘It is certain that nations are